Making a sacrifice to help better yourself, and your team can sometimes be hard.
When Rashard Lewis signed with the Orlando Magic in the summer of 2007, he had one stipulation: he wanted to play small forward. In his first nine seasons with the Seattle SuperSonics, Lewis thrived as a floor spacer at the three, forming a formidable duo with fellow sharp shooter Ray Allen.
Orlando, however, already had it’s starting small forward in Hedo Turkoglu, whom the team had signed just three years earlier. Moving Turkoglu to the bench seemingly wasn’t an option, especially due to his importance to their offense as a point-forward.
That’s where then head coach Stan Van Gundy stepped in.
Van Gundy told Lewis he’d be playing power forward, and sold him on the decision pretty easily.
“When Stan told me he wanted to move me to the four position, I was all for it,” said Lewis before the Magic’s win against the Washington Wizards on Friday night, a game in which they recognized Lewis for his time in Orlando. “ He pretty much told me he wanted Dwight [Howard] to control the paint, and we’d put shooters around him, and he wanted to keep Hedo Turkoglu on the floor.
“I felt like that was our best chance to compete in the Eastern Conference and try to win a championship. When he told me that, it was like a no brainer for me. He could’ve just threw me at the four and I would’ve gone out there and played.”
With Turkoglu at the three, and Lewis at the four, the Magic were one of the first teams to really adapt the four-out one-in style that is played so heavily today. At the time, the move raised questions across the league as to if it would work on not.
Those questions were quickly answered, and in a big way.
In his first two years with the Magic, Lewis knocked down 226 and 220 three-pointers, blowing his previous high for a season, 173, out of the water. The success from beyond the arc allowed Lewis to use other facets of his game to add more dimensions to the Magic offense, helping lead them to a top-11 offense in both of those seasons.
As the league continued to evolve, it was clear those Magic teams with Lewis, were a big culprit.
“We were one of the trendsetters of it,” said Lewis. “Coming to Orlando, we knew we had a force in Dwight Howard, and I thought coach Van Gundy did a great job of playing to everybody's strengths, and putting us in a position to be successful individually, and as a team.”
That success led to some of the best seasons in franchise history.
Lewis was able to become one of the most utilized players in the league, and one of the toughest to guard. His success lead to him making his second All-Star team, which is one of the things that stood out to him the most. The other came in the Eastern Conference finals against the LeBron James led Cleveland Cavaliers.
“Obviously that buzzer beater at the end of game one in Cleveland to get the series started,” said Lewis. “Winning ball games, hanging out with the fellas, I really enjoyed everything about playing with this team because we got along so well as a team. Stan Van Gundy demanded us to play on the court, but we had a great time off the court as well. It was just a time in my life that I’ll always cherish and talk about to my kids. Just reminisce when we made that run to the finals.”
The success, and high level of play from that 2008/09 season, culminated in the franchise’s second trip to the NBA Finals.
Ultimately, the result was not what the Magic were hoping for — they lost the series 4-1 to the Los Angeles Lakers. To this day, Lewis said he still thinks about the series, and what could’ve gone differently for the team.
“I think about it all the time,” said Lewis when asked about the trip to the Finals. “It feels like yesterday when we made it to the Finals. Like I said, it was our first time ever getting a chance to taste going to the Finals, and not only that, we was playing Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. That’s a memory that will never leave me.
“Even though we only won one game in those Finals, we was able to bring that to the city of Orlando. Our ultimate goal during that time was to win a championship for the DeVos family, as well as for the city of Orlando, because he [Rich DeVos] wanted it for the city of Orlando. That was our goal to reach it, and even though we failed, we tried our best to win a championship for him.”
Despite the disappointment from not being able to bring a championship to Orlando, Lewis can still put a feather in his cap for what the team was able to accomplish with him as one of the key cogs.
Making a sacrifice is never easy, especially when you’re doing something at the highest level in the world. While the sacrifice Rashard Lewis made is small in the grand scheme of things in this world, it meant everything to the Orlando Magic.
That sacrifice, along with what followed, is what helps make Lewis one of the most important players in the 30-year history of the Magic.