Posted Oct 30 2009 6:04AM
ORLANDO -- While his teammates had the thundering bellows of a sellout crowd ringing in their ears on opening night, Rashard Lewis' head was filled with only a roaring silence.
When the rest of the Magic were beginning their quest to live up to the standards represented by the 2009 Eastern Conference championship banner that was hanging from the rafters of Amway Arena, Lewis was miles away, peddling a stationary bicycle in seclusion and frustration.
"I knew the day was coming, but I'm still upset every time I think about it," Lewis said. "I was part of winning that banner. Not to be able to be at the arena. Little things like that kind of hit home. But you do the crime, you pay the fine."
Lewis' crime was having a routine drug test during last spring's playoffs that turned up a banned substance (DHEA), found in an over-the-counter supplement he was taking, which produced an elevated testosterone level in his system.
Now, as the Magic kingdom buzzes in the early days of the follow-up to last season's run to the Finals like a high-tnesion power line, the 6-foot-10 forward is on the outside, serving the 10-game suspension he received as punishment for violating the NBA's substance abuse policy. It will cost him an estimated $1.6 million from his $18 million salary and could cost the Magic home-court advantage somewhere in the playoffs next spring if they aren't able to fill the void. He'll be eligible to return on Nov. 16 when the Bobcats play at Orlando.
"Of course you want to be out there on the court helping your teammates, especially when they're making mistakes or even if they lose a game," Lewis said. "If they lose the game, you put the blame on yourself, because you know you could be out there helping the team."
On the 3-point blitzing Magic, Lewis was the lead gunner last season, taking and making more shots from behind the arc than any other player in the league. His ability to create mismatches on the front line is one of Orlando's ways to make center Dwight Howard more effective by opening up space in the middle.
While the Magic have changed their roster dramatically since the Finals, their focus was on bringing in more shooters to space the court. Ryan Anderson, who came from New Jersey in the deal with Vince Carter, hit 4-for-7 from behind the 3-point line in the season-opening win against Philadelphia and free-agent guard Jason Williams knocked down 3-for-4. Still, Lewis is Orlando's premier shooter.
"I never consider it a blessing," said coach Stan Van Gundy. "I think with Rashard, Dwight and Jameer (Nelson), probably more than anybody else, I have a real comfort zone. I know what to do with those guys at certain points in the game.
"With (Lewis) out, it makes things not as easy, so I don't think it's a blessing. I do think with any bad thing that happens, whether it's Jameer's injury last year, there's always a silver lining somewhere. Somebody else gets an opportunity. For us, the silver lining is that we get 10 games that count to really assess Brandon (Bass), Ryan, Matt (Barnes), MG (Marcin Gortat). Just to sort out where are we gonna go when Rashard comes back ... it's gonna be easier to make that decision based on 10 regular games than eight preseason games."
The harder challenge will be for Lewis to maintain his physical conditioning and keep mentally sharp through the first three weeks of the season. While NBA rules permit him to travel and practice with the team, he must vacate the arena two hours before every game. Through the first five games of the season, the Magic must keep Lewis on their active roster, meaning they can dress only 11 each night.
"His demeanor's been great," Van Gundy said. "He's really focused on trying to stay in shape. I see him through the window (from the practice court) running on the treadmill. It becomes a hard thing...It will get harder for him to stay in rhythm. He'll be with us, go through walk-throughs. Be there go through game plans. It's still tough to really focus in and be sharp when you know you're not gonna play."
Howard recalls his own experience when he had to sit out a game last spring when he was suspended for one game for elbowing Philadelphia's Samuel Dalembert in the head in their first-round playoff series.
"I didn't enjoy it," Howard said. "I was the main cheerleader in the hotel and they actually had to send security to my room and tell me to calm down since I was really excited about our team."
For the road games, Lewis will be sequestered in his hotel room. At home, he says he'll blow off steam by pedaling on his exercise bike and yelling at the TV.
"I can cuss at the officials, cuss at my teammates," Lewis said with a grin. "I'll be cussing at everybody. I guess you can critique it more sitting on the sidelines instead of being out there. I will most definitely pay close attention to the little things we're doing. I'll want to stay up to speed...Then again, if they're winning, you don't want to come back and disrupt a rhythm in the 11th game."
He goes between cracking jokes and cracking himself on the knuckles.
"Do the crime, do your time," Lewis said.
It's that tick, tick, ticking that's driving him mad.
Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here.
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