Lewis’ reserve role with Heat would not have fit his younger self

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

A notable scorer prior to arriving in Miami, Rashard Lewis has sacrificed to fit the Heat mold.

A notable scorer prior to arriving in Miami, Rashard Lewis has sacrificed to fit the Heat mold.

MIAMI – The 24-year-old Rashard Lewis would have wanted no part of this 34-year-old Rashard Lewis guy or, for that matter, the job he has.

If RL34 tried to pitch his role with the Miami Heat to RL24 – a lot of sitting, scarce playing time, limited touches on those occasions when you do play and a heavy priority on defense – the younger version of himself might have walked away muttering expletives and fearing insanity in his future.

“Ten years ago? [Bleep],” Lewis said Sunday, talking after the Heat’s practice about him then vs. him now. “I’d have been [hacked] off.

“Even if we was winning the ball game, I’d have been sitting over there furious. If I was in the game and felt like I hadn’t gotten a shot in a long time, and it came to the fourth quarter and zero points, I probably would have taken a bad shot trying to get myself going.”

Lewis came into the NBA projected as, and expecting to be, a star. He was drafted straight out of a Elsik High in Alief, Texas, by Seattle in the second round of the 1998 Draft and the only reason he slid that low was because he was 19 and the preps-to-pros thing still was sorting itself out. Not every high school kid was proving to be Kobe Bryant or Kevin Garnett. But Lewis figured to be plenty good and after a couple of years, he got real traction with the Sonics.

By age 24, in 2003-04, the 6-foot-10 forward was logging 37 minutes nightly, putting up 15 or 16 shots and averaging in the high teens. The next year, he was named to his first of two All-Star teams and began a streak of three seasons averaging at least 20 points.

In 2007, Lewis “got paid” – overpaid actually, in a six-year, $118 million sign-and-trade deal to Orlando – and while he never grew into that contract as a superstar or a franchise guy, Lewis did make it to another All-Star Game, led the league in 3-point attempts and makes and helped the Magic reach the 2009 Finals.

And yet here he was at 34, getting praised for a Game 3 performance in the Eastern Conference finals in which he played almost 18 minutes, shot 0-2, didn’t grab a rebound and went home scoreless. RL24 wouldn’t have wanted any part of that stats line, either, but RL34 felt proud of it because the players and coaches around him were pleased.

“It’s big time,” Miami’s LeBron James said. “For the non‑basketball people, you look at this stat sheet and see zeros across the board. When he was on the floor, it was a plus-21. That’s winning basketball. He sacrificed, defended, and he helped us get the lead. There’s a plus on the floor with him out there.’

Lewis hadn’t played at all in the first two games against Indiana, but when Chris Bosh got into foul trouble, coach Erik Spoelstra called on Lewis primarily to guard Pacers power forward David West. His best work came in the second quarter, then Lewis played nine minutes, West played 12 and the Indiana strongman got up only two shots for two points.

“He just brought energy,” Spoelstra said Sunday. “It was just we went deeper in the rotation. And maybe that’s a function of having a fresh body at that point in the game. It was a spark. It wasn’t necessarily planned. It just happened, we had to go deeper, and he produced.”

Lewis is a special case among the veterans on the Heat bench. Some, like Shane Battier and James Jones, always were destined to be role players and adapted to that over years. Ray Allen is 38 years old and by design has honed his game to become mostly a 3-point specialist.

Lewis, though, signed with Miami in 2012, accepting a two-year, minimum-wage deal because he still had money coming from his whopper 2007 contract. He was 33 years old and relatively healthy, with plenty of game left and interest from teams that wanted him to play longer minutes and a bigger role.

He opted for Miami’s bench, knowing full well that much of the skills he had left would be left in the Heat’s practice gym.

Said Lewis: “I said to myself after I left Washington, D.C., ‘I’ve played on All-Star teams a couple of times. I’ve made a good amount of money. I’ve been in 3-point contests. I’ve averaged 20 points. I’ve done a lot of things over 12, 13 years. But I don’t have a championship.’

“So watching the Miami Heat win their first championship [2012], I told myself I wanted to be part of a team like that, a good team. But it’s like the Spurs – you have to sacrifice. Everybody on our team has to sacrifice. I knew that coming to our team, so I was mentally prepared.”

Not just anybody gets chosen, however. Spoelstra acknowledge that plenty of free agents have come knocking in recent seasons, eager to jump aboard the James-Bosh-Dwyane Wade bandwagon. Most say all the right things, too, about being willing to scale down their ambitions and such.

The Heat do not simply take that at face value.

“We paint the worst picture,” the Miami coach said. ” ‘How would you handle it if you’re sitting? This might not be the place for you. And that wouldn’t mean you’re a bad guy.’ “

Some players, when it has been put to them that way, have demurred, opting to sign somewhere else. None, Spoelstra said, has lied, joined in, then become a problem later.

“It also doesn’t mean that, while you’re in it, it’s going to be easy,” Spoelstra said. “Or that you’ll respond the right way.”

Lewis averaged just 4.3 minutes in last year’s playoffs for Miami. This season, he started just six times and scored 10 points or more only eight times in 60 appearances. He also had a stretch of 10 DNPs in March, sitting out 17 of 22 games around that stretch. And when he does get into games, Lewis remembers the talks he had with Spoelstra back in training camp, that it’s defense first.

“You’ve got to be mentally prepared,” Lewis said of the Miami bench dynamic. “Not only myself but guys like J.J. [James Jones] and Michael Beasley – a talented young guy, drafted No. 2. I’m sure it’s frustrating for him at times but in the locker room, I think, we keep him grounded.”

Lewis, meanwhile, sounds like he’s past the what-if games. He has earned more than $155 million and now he’s chasing another one of those baubles money cannot buy.

“As long as we can compete for a championship, I want to be here until I retire. I wouldn’t want to go to a team where I’m playing 30 minutes but it doesn’t result in anything. I’ve done that – in Seattle, in Orlando. Now I’m at the point where I want to get as many championships as possible.”

27 Comments

  1. manie says:

    this pro players never mention family but I do believe that when you are rich and have played long enough and devoted a good chunk of your live on the court, press conferences, community , endorsements and all that time that super stars have to put in you just start understanding that you have family and would rather not put so much time on your work. Nba becomes a job you enjoy practicing and playing games no intense hours in the gym. Lewis in a good position

  2. Mr. Unbelievable says:

    Not as much a sacrifice as it is a necessity. If you’re going to be a role player regardless, why not be a role player for a championship team.

  3. Wolves4lyfe says:

    Lewis has become a true vet player. Doesn’t care about the stats or individual performance. He only cares for winning and the team. That’s a player every team needs. I somewhat wished he wouldn’t have gone to Miami, but hey they are winning so go where you have the bbest chance. I probably would’ve chose them as well.

  4. Big Al says:

    Rashard was a very capable player before, but seemed to have turned his career into a business. Some fool once made him the second-highest paid guy in the league. After a promising 2009 performance in Orlando by helping them get into the Finals, the next year was lackluster, particularly in the series against Boston where he delivered well below expectations (could have set up a re-match against the Lakers if not for that). Then after a few other teams, Lewis found his way in Miami and took a free ride to a championship last year.

  5. whyohwhy says:

    I have no idea why RL gets time over Beasley. Beasley has proven that he can score and defend. He is 6’10” and a very active player. Sometimes I wonder about Spolstras coachinga abilities. I think he is just lucky to have good players and is not really that good of a coach. Any time Beasley has played he has produced very good numbers for the minutes played.

    Another example is the first year they lost to dallas. James Jones was killing it from 3 point land all playoffs. Then when the finals came, Mike Miller returned from an injury and took James Jone’s minutes. Mike Miller is a good player, but he had been out for a long time and performed very badly when he came back for the finals. Why would a coach take out a hot player who had been filling it up all playoffs, and replace him with a guy who had been sitting?

    • Bball7 says:

      Lol Beasly 6′ 10″?

    • hello? says:

      c’mon man it’s a no-brainer.. for example, let’s say LeBron has been out due to injury and you’re Beasley has been lighting it up from everywhere. then, Lebron recovers from injury, would you still sit LeBron over Beasley?? most of the time it’s name over performance

    • whyohwhy says:

      Lol yourself, Nba.com has him listed at 6’10” 235lbs. If you know something they don’t, more power to you.

      Also, the difference between LeBron and Beasley, from a player status point of view is much different than the difference between James Jones and Mike Miller. Both Miller and Jones are role players, as is Beasley. LeBron on the other hand is a premier player, so your comparison is not equivalent.

  6. johnny dawson says:

    Rashard handles the ball like a guard. Three cheers Rashard!

  7. Joseph says:

    Keep Getting Them Checks, Rashard!

    • Erik says:

      you mean the Heat has been sacrificing a lot of money to get one good game from RL right? some player are expected to be leader but they like to be follower. RL is one and he likes to kiss Lebron’s and make love to him, maybe dwade can join them as well. That’s the sacrifice that RL is waiting for.

  8. Magic Fan says:

    rl is a great role player, wished he was able to push magic to a championship

  9. Tat says:

    Overpaid and overrated in the past, now he is on the top team bandwagon with minimal input.
    It will be a ring without much meaning, can you really considerd yourself a champion when you are not a factor?

    • Pakyaw says:

      Not overrated just overpaid

    • elledutnav says:

      You can’t say that he’s not a factor. He is a factor to every Miami’s game he played. Maybe not offensively but defensively. Maybe you just don’t understand how basketball works sometimes

  10. JC says:

    Miami gave him the opportunity to shoot the ball but he missing to many , may be if he got the shoot back then he will be play more time , is a very good player but in this time is slow and not accuracy , i will like watch him like old times and i hope. go RL you are a supper star

  11. dunjav2013 says:

    Reblogged this on dunjav.

  12. jjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj says:

    Rashard Lewis is a Rashard Lewis.

  13. TheCubanConnection says:

    Why Michael Beasley is not getting any minutes?
    He has showed abilities and defense-mind attitude……
    I think he is able to clamp West for a whole night since he is younger than the Boxer!

  14. Kofi says:

    In Miami its a process and once you get into that concept thats all that matters, guys sacrifice for each other so well done RL #3peat

  15. lakerslakerslakers says:

    luke walton has you beat

  16. holyspectator says:

    he made his bucks, its about them rings now…i would hate to go through a long nba career and never to have won a ring…cant hate on him ..id prolly do the same

  17. vincent says:

    rings dont necessarily define a player’s career. but it works for him, he made a butt-load of cash in orlando

  18. NBA_Fan says:

    Bravo Rashard Lewis. That’s a welcome bit of maturity for the NBA.

  19. cp10 says:

    Not a bad job to have at all and best wishes to RL; looking forward to seeing good basketball in these playoffs; Heat has depth covered w/ the players you mentioned Steve, it’s like two super teams in one. They are there for a reason of course, to contend for the championship.

  20. VJ says:

    It shows how much fans are getting ripped off when teams can pay $118 million to a basically garbage time player.