Rashard Lewis has his focus on his health

AP Photo/DayLifeRashard Lewis’ salary follows him around wherever he goes.

The maximum contract Lewis received from the Magic in the summer of 2007 has been an albatross hanging around his neck, forcing higher expectations on him and an impact his role could not produce. The Magic asked him to be more of a spot-up shooter and floor spacer in their 1-in, 4-out offense centered around Dwight Howard.

It worked brilliantly for three years until Lewis got old and his knee began to give him problems. Lewis never officially had knee issues in Orlando, but the sudden drop his numbers took from 2010 to 2011 before he was traded to Washington might have been a sign of the injuries mounting. His points per game dropped from 17.7 points per game in 2009 to 14.1 in 2010 and 12.2 in 2011 with the Magic. His PER unceremoniously and visibly dropped from 16.8 to 14.0 to 11.0.

The 2011-12 season was perhaps his worst since his rookie season, when he was an unheralded second round pick right out of high school with a power forward’s body and guard skills. He averaged a lowly 7.8 points per game and shot only 23.9 percent from beyond the arc.

For perspective, and because Lewis’ contract always follows him around, he made $97,404 per point this season.

Knee injuries kept him from playing a full season and doing everything he could to help the Wizards grow. it was one of the cruel jokes in his penultimate year under that massive contract. Lewis played in just 28 of the 66 games in this lockout shortened season.

While Washington will be looking to spend most of the offseason trying to rid themselves of the final year of his contract, Lewis is hoping to actually make a contribution in the final year of his monstrous contract. That may or may not be with Washington. The Wizards still have their amnesty exception to use on a high-priced player, but they are now expected to use that on Andray Blatche.

With one year left on his deal, Lewis actually has more value as a trade chip to bring in some type of value to the franchise. Either that or the Wizards seem more willing to buy out the final year of Lewis’ contract and save the amnesty exception for another player.

Lewis has a lot of value for his contract now that it is expiring, as Michael Lee of The Washington Post writes:

AP Photo/DayLife“The Wizards will probably take every step to part ways with Lewis this summer, and they have several options at their disposal. Once the amnesty provision was added to the new collective bargaining agreement, Lewis was expected to be one of the first players to get waived, but the Wizards held on, leading to an assumption that the team would buy him out of the final year of his exorbitant contract.

But the Wizards view Lewis as a valuable trade chip around the NBA draft. Now, no team is going to deal for Lewis with the belief that it is getting a player that is anything close to being worth his nearly $24 million salary (or even the $13.7 million buyout) next season. Lewis, though, could represent a chance for a team to shed salary in anticipation of the summer of 2013, when the true economic impact of the new CBA truly kicks in.”

Lewis has had to deal with the economic reality of his contract for a long time. He has largely done this pretty well. During the lockout he recognized that he was an exemplar of some of the runaway contracts owners were fighting against. His defense was: I was offered that money, am I supposed to turn it down?

Through it all, Lewis at least could play through it and help his team. In Orlando he was a consummate professional and a guy that filled his role and was a leader in the locker room for a growing team. Lewis was key to the Magic’s run to the Finals in 2009. Everyone remembers Hedo Turkoglu’s late-game heroics, but few talk about Lewis’ big shots in Games One and Four of the Eastern Conference Finals against Cleveland or his strong performance in the Finals going up against Pau Gasol.

Lewis was always unassuming and that made his critics all the more louder. He did not have the defense this year because he was not on the court — and when he was, he was limited and failed to produce.

AP Photo/DayLifeLewis said he knows that his future with the organization is out of his hands. This is why Lewis is focusing more this offseason on getting himself healthy and ready for the start of the 2012-13 season. Lewis clearly wants to contribute somewhere and believes he has some basketball left in him — appropriately priced this time, of course.

Washington holds the decision in its hands regarding Lewis. He still could be a valuable piece to the franchise. Lewis acts as the veteran leader on the roster and one of the few players that has been through NBA wars. Lewis could very well be a positive influence in the locker room and a guy that has always been team first.

Remember, it was Lewis who voiced his extreme displeasure with his teammates after an early January loss in Orlando (his first game playing back against his former team) where he was fed up with his team’s effort in blowout losses and the fact nobody cared about winning. The Wizards may have shown that commitment in shedding JaVale McGee and Nick Young — two reputedly me-first players who perhaps needed the jolt to fix their ways on new rosters.

Lewis still has value. Maybe not $20 million worth of value. But if Lewis can get healthy, for that final year on his contract, he can still contribute positively to the Wizards.

Philip Rossman-Reich

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily