Posted Feb 6 2011 10:47AM
Rashard Lewis heard the rumors. That's life in the NBA and, after a while, you learn to ignore your name being bandied about in this trade or that. Then one day, the call comes waking you up from a nap, turning the rumor into reality.
"It's almost always rumor before the All-Star break, but it happened," Lewis said of the Dec. 18 trade. "I was definitely surprised going from a team contending for a title to a team that's rebuilding, but at the same time I was upset about it I didn't want to bring negative energy to our organization, so I had to think of the positive side of it and stay positive."
Keep thinking that way, because it could happen again. For a franchise building around rookie John Wall and youth, Lewis likely isn't part of the future. Predictably, his name is once again subject of trade conjecture going into the Feb. 24 deadline and though he tries to block it out, Lewis understand how this all works.
The move from Orlando to Washington shocked Lewis -- how could it not? -- as much as it shocked the rest of the league. The retooled Magic picked up former Wizards headache Gilbert Arenas in the swap. Washington picked up a pricey veteran in the midst of his worst season in a decade.
Not ideally what the Wizards need going forward. Lewis is 31 and is still owed at least $31 million over the next two years. He's also one of the league's premier 3-point marksmen and would help a contender if the last seven weeks are a guide. His output has been on an uptick since landing in the capital, averaging about 14 points, seven rebounds and shooting 47 percent since the move up the coast.
Lewis hopes to prove he can still do what he did before signing with Orlando four years ago. He became a max-level role player with the Magic, a "stretch 4" asked to space the floor, spot up for 3s and let Dwight Howard control the paint.
"I've got to get back to being aggressive, posting up, penetrating to the basket, shoot the 3 -- pretty much what I did when I played in Seattle," he said.
Beyond the numbers, Lewis has been a model citizen with the Wizards. That he's refused to sulk despite his change in circumstance isn't surprising, given a reputation as a consummate pro. That he's stepped into a leadership position right off the bat has been unexpected.
"Stan [Van Gundy] said when he traded him, he hated it because he's one of the nicest guys he ever had," Wizards coach Flip Saunders said. "We knew he was a great guy. I don't think we knew he'd be as vocal from a leadership standpoint as he is. We knew he was going to be very professional in his approach.
"I think next year when he comes in and he goes through training camp with us, I think he'll be more vocal."
That's assuming Lewis stays beyond the trade deadline and through the offseason. The 6-foot-10 Houston native, with 13 years invested in the league, is Washington's elder statesman for now. The roster features eight players 25 and younger, including five rookies.
The kids aren't blind to Lewis' contributions.
"Great leadership," said Wall, the No. 1 pick in last summer's Draft. "Got somebody that speaks up in the huddle and locker room, make plays for us that can stretch the defense and make shots, and another big that can rebound."
Saunders also leans on veterans Kirk Hinrich and Josh Howard in the mentorship department. Lewis, a two-time All-Star, is the only current starter of the three, and has experienced the last two Eastern Conference finals and the 2009 NBA Finals.
"When you're playing three rookies in your first seven or eight guys," Saunders said, "it's nice to have a veteran guy that can at least help guide them along, as far as on the floor, when you're going through your frustrations."
Lewis describes himself as a quiet guy who would rather lead by example, whether it's getting to the gym early, getting up extra shots after practice or putting in the time in the weight room. Looking around the locker room at all the youthful and impressionable faces, he recognized that for the first time in his career more was expected.
"They need me to be more vocal," he said.
And that means trying to keep the team optimistic through all the losing. Lewis has noticed his younger teammates tend to withdraw during games when nothing seems to be going right. That's been the case every outing outside of the Verizon Center.
Washington has yet to win on the road this season, sitting at 0-25. The NBA record for consecutive road losses to start a season is 29 by the 1992-93 Dallas Mavericks. The Wizards' best chance to avoid an unsightly entry in the record book is probably the next road game -- Feb. 13 at Cleveland. The Cavaliers set the NBA single-season record with their 24th consecutive loss Saturday night.
Despite the Wizards' woes, Lewis notes that Washington is technically still in the playoff race at 13-37. While being in postseason contention has more to do with being in the Eastern Conference, Lewis is going to look for silver linings wherever he can find them. His mind set is much the same as the day he learned of the trade and his message to his teammates of less than two months is clear.
"We've got to keep our head up. We've got to keep playing," he said. "Even though we haven't won a game on the road, we can't put our head down. We've got to keep pushing forward trying to win ballgames. Even during the game we can't put our head down. Teams are going to make runs, that's why you've got to keep everybody with a positive energy, keep everybody upbeat, and just keep playing."
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