ORLANDO, Fla. — A little more than one year ago, Rashard Lewis awoke to discover the equivalent of coal in his Christmas stocking.
Just one week before Christmas, Lewis was traded from the playoff-contending Orlando Magic to the Washington Wizards for Gilbert Arenas.
Lewis, now a 13-year NBA veteran, is playing a different role in Washington. He’s being called upon not only to score but to help provide leadership for a rebuilding team after spending the majority of his career on playoff contenders — first the Seattle Supersonics and then the Magic.
For inspiration in his new role, Lewis recalls his days in Seattle when the team’s veterans showed him what it meant to be a professional and how to survive the lean years.
“When I younger, playing in Seattle, we had a mix of young guys and veterans, and I think that’s the best way to go,” Lewis said. “You’ve got to have some veterans on the team to help the young guys in practice, making them get better, just telling them what to do or showing them by example, by practicing every day, getting in the weight room, whatever.
“It’s very tough for a young team to learn when you’ve got nothing but young guys on a team, because they follow each other’s lead. They’re trying to learn, trying to figure out a way as well.”
Lewis’ veteran role models from his Seattle days included Gary Payton, a nine-time All-Star and nine-time first-team All-Defensive selection, and Detlef Schrempf, a three-time All-Star and two-time Sixth Man of the Year.
“In practice, I had to guard Detlef. Every time I messed up, he would kill me in the post, or when he would do something to me, he would stop and tell me what I was doing wrong,” Lewis said. “I was all ears. I knew I was a young guy, coming out of high school, that needed to learn the game of basketball, learn the NBA game.”
Now, tasked with teaching the Wizards’ younger players, especially big men Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee, Kevin Seraphin and Chris Singleton, Lewis relies on the wisdom that was passed on to him.
“If it’s not talking, you’ve got to lead by example,” Lewis said.
His job is made that much more difficult by the Wizards’ 0-5 start. Washington is the only winless team in the NBA.
“That’s the competitive nature of this team, because of the hard work we put in during training camp, working together, and feeling this year that we had a good chance of being a good team,” Lewis said. “Coming out of the blocks stumbling, it’s very tough.”
On Wednesday night in Orlando, Lewis will help lead his young teammates into Amway Center, where they will face a Magic team that is focused on the playoffs and trying not to dwell on the potential trade of All-Star center Dwight Howard.
“I had great times with that team,” Lewis said of the Magic, with whom he played for 3 1/2 seasons. “There are still guys that I played with on that team that are still there. I’m just looking forward to being back in that building and just being in that atmosphere.”
The Magic still have fond memories of Lewis, too. During his last visit, he noticed that there were still photos of him hanging in the arena.
“I wanted to see if I could take some of that stuff home,” Lewis said with a laugh.