HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — We’d be remiss here at Hang Time if we didn’t review a pair of returns Wednesday night, Rip Hamilton in Detroit and Rashard Lewis in Orlando. For completely different reasons, both players made their mark on those franchises before moving on, mainly because those franchises didn’t want them anymore.
Let’s get to Rip first. He led the Pistons to the 2004 title and a string of deep playoff runs last decade before the team around him crumbled. And then he was bought out and waived by Detroit and fell into the lap of the Bulls, thrilled to have a guard with a nasty mid-range jumper playing next to Derrick Rose. Well, Rip was warmly welcomed back to the Palace — by all six fans who showed up (actually, the announced crowd was 9,125. For the Bulls. Yeesh. Remember when The Palace was always filled with 20,000 strong?). It was a surreal sight for Rip, if only because the atmosphere was far different during the glory years, but times have changed for Rip and the Pistons, as we see.
What few fans showed up for the Pistons’ 99-83 loss to Chicago gave Richard Hamilton a warm round of applause tonight at the Palace.
Public address announcer John Mason described him as the longtime shooting guard.
Before the game Hamilton chatted with Austin Daye, and just before tip-off went over to the Detroit bench and hugged Rodney Stuckey, trainer Mike Abdenour, assistant coach Brian Hill and coach Lawrence Frank. He spent a lot of time at half-court afterward greeting his former teammates.
Hamilton said every time he looked up into the Palace rafters he saw his name — alongside those of Ben Wallace, Tayshaun Prince, Corliss Williamson, Elden Campbell, Mehmet Okur, Rahseed Wallace, Chauncey Billups and the rest of the group that brought a title back to Detroit in 2004.
He faced his old team for the first time since being waived and bought out of his contract last month.
“It was fun,” said Hamilton, who scored seven of his 14 points in the third quarter and played through a sore left groin while racking up five assists and three rebounds. “I couldn’t wait for the ball to be thrown up. There was a lot of emotion early in the game, being on the visitor’s side and not being accustomed to it in this building. It was difficult. I said. ‘Man, please don’t start crying or anything crazy.’
“The fans appreciate what I did here. They’ve always been supportive of me. Even when things weren’t going well they’d always chant my name. I have a lot of love for them. It’s tough to see this place half empty. I think when Chauncey and Rahseed and I were here they had sellouts for seven straight years.”
And then there’s Lewis. You could argue the Magic are in their current state mainly because they gave Lewis a $119 million contract several years ago. And he never became the player in Orlando that he was in Seattle, not to say Lewis was a complete bust, but the last few years were thin. He did produce some big buckets in the Magic’s run to The Finals in 2009 and was an All-Star that season, but in the end, because of his contract, the Magic are on the hook for Gilbert Arenas‘ $60 million.
Orlando would’ve amnestied Lewis if they held onto him — at least that’s the feeling anyway — because Lewis has regressed into a long-range shooter who barely averages in double figures. Instead, they used their provision on Arenas. Anyway, Stan Van Gundy was a big fan, mainly because Lewis was professional throughout his stay and never held any grudges.
Despite being dealt a season ago, Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel says Lewis doesn’t hold any ill will toward his old team:
Lewis has adjusted.
In an interview Tuesday, as he sat in his old team’s practice gym, Lewis revealed that it took him months to come to terms with the blockbuster trade. He went from a team with legitimate NBA title aspirations to a team headed for the NBA lottery. And although he had heard rumors that a trade was in the offing, the deal still caught him by surprise.
“At the time, when the trade happened, it was a blow,” Lewis recalled.
“It was a huge blow. My main focus was to try and win the NBA championship for the city of Orlando. We got close one year. We’d been to the Eastern Conference finals the year after that. It was nothing but good times here when we were winning ballgames, and I put everything into trying to bring a championship for this city and for this team. It just seemed like it came crashing down all in one day.”
Lewis emphasized that he feels no ill will toward the Magic and that he wishes the best for the franchise that signed him to a huge free-agent contract in July 2007.
He remains in touch with former teammates, most notably point guard Jameer Nelson. He also hopes the Magic can retain Dwight Howard for the long-term.
He even said he rooted for the Magic in last spring’s playoffs.
“I still felt like, in my heart, I was a part of that team, and I wanted them to win,” he said.
“I still want this city to win the NBA championship. I thank them for everything that they’ve done for me: for giving me an opportunity to come and play here with Dwight Howard, with a first-class organization, with a great coach in Stan Van Gundy and with great fans.”
Clearly, Rip is better off in his new uniform than Lewis in his. Rip is in position to be a big factor come playoff time, when the Bulls will look to shake the double teams away from Rose. Given his low price tag and still-evident shooting ability, Rip could be the best-value pickup of the year. As for Lewis, good luck with the winless Wizards.