Top 50: Rashard Lewis, no. 38
The definitive ranking of the NBA’s best players.
by Chris O’Leary
Often the unofficial mantra of losers, Next Year finds its way onto the lips of athletes and fans alike across the planet. It becomes the band-aid to what ails your team.
Out-rebounded on a nightly basis? Can’t play D? Have locker room issues with teammates? Run out of gas and come up short in the Eastern Conference Finals?
Next Year can fix all of that. Embrace it, let it be your savior.
Rashard Lewis’ pairing with the word is different. This summer, Next Year threw itself at the Orlando Magic swingman like an overeager high school girl at a frat party.
After Dwight Howard, Shard will be the second-most important piece of the puzzle this season for Orlando. Dwight will continue to do his thing, looking like the Incredible Hulk under the basket. Jameer Nelson will play his part, setting the table for everyone. As revitalized as Vince Carter may be this coming season, you can’t help but think that he’s salivating at the prospect of winning while being the third or fourth banana some nights. In many ways, Shard is the glue of this team’s core.
Having just turned 30 (how fast did that happen?), the time is now for Lewis and the Magic. The arrival of Brandon Bass will let Shard play as the consummate three that he’s built to be, knocking down the trey with his robotic form and still capable of slashing to the bucket for the dunk. And to think, he could have been your favorite team’s forward for a meagre $18 million per season.
Actually, Shard will make a little bit more than that this season.
Winning does a funny thing to those inflated numbers though, doesn’t it? That milk-out-the-nose reaction that everyone had to the contract he signed in 2007 isn’t as jarring as it once was. A trip to the Finals (at the expense of the Cavs) tends to force your critics to bite their tongues, at least for the summer months and as long as things stay sunny for the Magic.
Is he overpaid? Definitely. There’s no way he should be Orlando’s top earner through 2013. But at the same time, Orlando is on the cusp of getting to a place it hasn’t legitimately been able to think about about since 1995-96 and they wouldn’t be there without Rashard Lewis.
While other players in the League have made careers out of putting up strong numbers on non-contenders and talking about winning, Shard has gone out and helped lift his team to that next level. When he steps on the court, his heart seems to be in the right place. Maybe it’s because his wallet acts as a stilt to get him there, but regardless, the guy has helped take Orlando into the elite of the NBA.
He seems to enjoy the pressure that comes with pro ball. A second-round pick (32nd overall) by the Sonics in the ’98 draft, Shard was fueled to prove all those other teams wrong for not picking him sooner. Now in Orlando, he’ll have to justify the $213,643.79 he gets paid to play night-in and night-out this year.
As he told everyone’s favorite Twitterer, Russ Bengtson in SLAM 113, a championship was in his sights well before this past season with Orlando.
“Seeing these guys win championships, especially Dwyane Wade and then you have the Spurs that dominate every year, I wanna be in that position to where I’m tryin’ to compete for a ring also,” he said. “And I feel like I can do that in coming to Orlando.”
If the Magic’s success last year is any indication, things are only going to get sunnier in Orlando.
Next Year, Shard. It could be all yours. Well, 10 games into Next Year.
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’09-10 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Brett Ballantini, Russ Bengtson, Toney Blare, Shannon Booher, Myles Brown, Franklyn Calle, Gregory Dole, Emry DowningHall, Jonathan Evans, Adam Fleischer, Jeff Fox, Sherman Johnson, Aaron Kaplowitz, John Krolik, Holly MacKenzie, Ryne Nelson, Chris O’Leary, Ben Osborne, Alan Paul, Susan Price, Sam Rubenstein, Khalid Salaam, Kye Stephenson, Adam Sweeney, Vincent Thomas, Tzvi Twersky, Justin Walsh, Joey Whelan, Eric Woodyard, and Nima Zarrabi.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.