Despite what the title of this article may suggest, I’m not placing all of the blame on Rashard Lewis’ shoulders.
I believe Orlando's failure in this year’s Eastern Conference Finals came down to three things—Rashard Lewis’ disappearance, Vince Carter’s lack of a killer instinct, and Dwight Howard’s undeveloped post-game.
First of all, where in the world is Rashard Lewis? He played awful the entire series.
Lewis entered the NBA as a second-round pick of the Seattle Supersonics. He came straight out of high school and was selected with the 32nd overall pick in 1998.
He played his first nine seasons with the Sonics before joining the Orlando Magic through a sign-and-trade in the summer of 2007.
That year Seattle won the second overall pick in the draft and was looking toward the future. They selected Kevin Durant, traded Ray Allen to the Boston Celtics, and no longer considered Lewis part of the long-term plan.
As a result, the Sonics agreed to send Lewis to the Magic. It made sense for Orlando. The team had a budding superstar in Dwight Howard. The Magic were looking to avoid a repeat of what happened with Shaquille O’Neal and decided it was necessary to surround Howard with some talent.
Like Shaq, Howard is a young center who dominated the paint. Therefore, the best type of player to put around him was shooters. That way when teams double on Howard he can kick the ball out for the uncontested three-point shot.
Lewis seemed to fit that mold perfectly. He was named to the All-Star team in 2005 and was one of deadliest three-point shooters in the league. He is the Sonics all-time leader in three-point field goals (918).
Despite all of Lewis’ accolades I never understood why the Magic offered such an exuberant contract.
Lewis opted out of the final two years of his existing deal, which would have paid him $21 million over two seasons. Orlando then offered him a six-year $118 million contract.
This was a player that put up 20 points and six rebounds a night. Good stats and definitely All-Star material. But is that really worth $118 million?
Rashard Lewis has three years remaining on his contract and is set to earn almost $24 million in the final year of his deal.
Since joining the Magic his stats have dropped every year. And he has only been selected to the All-Star team once in his three seasons in Orlando.
Lewis is a very talented player but he is definitely overpaid. However, I don’t blame him for this. The blame rests with Orlando Magic GM Otis Smith.
He never should have offered such a large contract for a player that would never be one of the best in the league. In fact, he was brought in to be Dwight Howard’s sidekick. He wasn’t even going to be the best player on the team.
Yet, he make more money then Howard.
Lewis’ agent Tony Dutt did exactly what he was supposed to. Get as much money for his client as possible and then let the GM worry about the salary-cap implications.
Now the Magic have a player who is drastically overpaid and likely unmovable. Lewis averaged 8.2 points per game in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics and was 4-23 from behind the three-point arc.
This is not the type of complimentary player who will help lead the Orlando Magic to the promise land.
Next, the blame needs to fall on Vince Carter. Carter has always been a world-class talent, yet never seemed to have the necessary drive to be the best in the game.
When Carter burst onto the scene during the 1998-99 season, he quickly became a fan favorite. He was named Rookie of the Year and won the NBA’s Slam Dunk contest. He is a perennial All-Star and one of the best shooting guards in the league. However, he isn’t as good as everyone thought he would be.
There was even speculation early in the decade of a Vince Carter for Kobe Bryant swap when the Shaq and Kobe feud really started to explode. I doubt any of those rumors were true, but if we could go back in time I’m sure Raptor fans would love to have made that trade and have Kobe with the team today.
Despite his talent, Carter never seemed to want to be the focus on the team. He was much more content just being one of the guys and not the leader of the team.
Once in New Jersey, Carter was content to play second fiddle to Jason Kidd.
There was much debate this past offseason when the Magic decided to let Hedo Turkoglu walk via free agency and bring in Carter, despite the team coming off its first NBA Finals appearance since 1995.
There is no doubt that Carter is a more talented player then Turkoglu, but I always felt that Hedo was a better fit for the team. Turkoglu had a terrible season in Toronto. On the other hand, Carter was not capable of carrying the Magic back to the NBA Finals.
Finally, Dwight Howard is very much deserving of some blame. He started off the series slow, but definitely gained momentum with every game.
However, the real problem is Howard has a few nice post moves but he is still very raw offensively. He needs to develop that part of his game if he wants to truly be considered an elite player. There is no way that Kendrick Perkins should be able to guard Howard one-on-one.
If the Magic are every going to take the next step there are a number of concerns that need to be addressed.
The team as currently constructed is probably good enough to consistently win 50-60 games every season. But ultimately, without dramatic improvements from the team’s “All-Star” players, Orlando is not capable of winning a championship.