By Art Garcia, NBA.com
Posted Aug 7 2009 11:25AM
Orlando's defense of its Eastern Conference title didn't necessarily get any tougher with Thursday's announcement of Rashard Lewis' 10-game suspension. Likely getting their All-Star forward back by mid-November leaves the Magic plenty of time to make up for any tumble out of the gate.
Assuming they even tumble out of the gate.
The suspension probably has just as limited an impact on Lewis' reputation, though his status as a two-time All-Star comes with a heightened level of scrutiny. Lewis released a statement through the Magic immediately after the penalty was announced taking responsibility and apologizing for his carelessness.
"I hope this unintentional mistake will not reflect poorly on our team and its great character," Lewis said. "I hope every athlete can learn from my mistake that supplements, no matter how innocent they seem, should only be taken after consulting an expert in the field."
Lewis' decision to acknowledge his error and accept punishment, rather than denying or avoiding the issue, should earn sympathy in most circles. While it doesn't excuse his actions -- any athlete who isn't fully aware of what's going into his or her body nowadays smacks of extreme naïveté or just plain stupidity -- getting in front of the issue and calling it an honest mistake is at least admirable.
Those who deny only to be found guilty later are usually much worse off in the court of public opinion. Lewis should also benefit from a solid reputation off the court and his involvement in numerous charities. The Magic appear ready to move forward with Lewis, while attempting to turn this episode into a positive.
"We spend a lot of time educating our players and have to continue in that regard," general manager Otis Smith said. "I label this a teachable moment."
Lewis said the banned substance, indentified by the Orlando Sentinel as dehydroepiandrosterone and commonly known as DHEA, was part of an over-the-counter supplement he began taking late last season. Lewis told the Sentinel the supplement was taken in powdered form and mixed into smoothies.
The league announcement said Lewis violated the terms of the NBA/NBPA Anti-Drug Program by testing positive for an elevated testosterone level. An effect of DHEA is an increase in the production of testosterone. DHEA is banned by the NBA and a number of other professional leagues.
Lewis' agent Tony Dutt confirmed to NBA.com that the substance in the vitamin supplement wasn't a steroid. Dutt added that talks with the NBA players' association are forthcoming regarding the suspension, which includes a loss of approximately $1.6 million from his $18 million salary.
"The level of punishment and fine is pretty significant," Dutt said. "This is a big deal and we're still trying to gather all the facts. We're going to follow the lead of the union on this matter."
The Sentinel reported that Lewis failed a drug test for the first time during the postseason and, surprised by the results, asked to be tested again during the Finals. Dutt also confirmed that account, adding that Lewis is truly remorseful.
"He's not trying to run from this," Dutt said. "It's especially hard considering the quality of the kid. He's had to take a hit and deal with it, and he will."
According to the drug policy, players are randomly tested up to four times per season. The first violation of the SPED policy (steroids, performance-enhancing drugs and masking agents) carries a 10-game suspension and the player must enter the SPED program. The second positive test is a 25-game ban. A third carries a year suspension and fourth means a lifetime ban.
Should Lewis miss the first 10 games of the season, as expected, he'll return to the lineup Nov. 16 against Charlotte in Orlando. The Magic's early schedule doesn't appear arduous, with five games each on the road and at home. The suspension won't keep Lewis from participating in training camp or the preseason.
Included in those first 10 is a high-profile Nov. 11 rematch of the Eastern Conference finals against LeBron James, former Magic center Shaquille O'Neal and the rest of the Cavaliers at Amway Arena. Lewis played a key role in knocking Cleveland out and Orlando's run to the Finals.
The Houston native was the Magic's second-leading scorer behind Dwight Howard in both the regular season and Playoffs. Lewis and Howard each started a team-high 79 games last season. Only reserve guard Anthony Johnson played in more games with 80.
If you have a question or comment for Art Garcia, send him an e-mail.
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