No, Dwight Howard hasn't gone anywhere. Actually, he's expected to sign a lengthy extension of his own. But given the commitment the Magic have made to their newest acquisition, Lewis just became the most important man in Orlando.
|Make no mistake about it, the Magic have placed their hopes in Rashard Lewis' hands. (AP)|
Lewis, who signed a six-year deal that could net him as much as $118 million, is the wild card who could make the Magic great, deliver a highly coveted new arena -- or break the hearts of the entire organization.
As the Lewis deal became official and he held his introductory news conference, the albatross not far from everyone's thoughts was actually in the Pacific time zone Lewis had just left. Grant Hill was being introduced in Phoenix.
Hill was a marvelous person in the community, but injuries kept him from panning out on the court. No one would touch his massive contract, so Orlando was stuck with him until his seven-year deal finally ran out. The Magic took the cap space that opened up and handed it to another small forward they have high hopes for, crossing their fingers that their money won't be squandered this time. Despite being burned before, the Magic have opted for no safety net.
General manager Otis Smith believes Lewis is the guy. He has staked his future on it, even working late into the night to execute the sign-and-trade with Seattle that netted Lewis a sixth year. You can't accuse Orlando of feeling snake-bitten.
"It's really a great thing because when I came here, one of the first things Otis said in talking about our team was that this was the plan," said new head coach Stan Van Gundy. "When you can put your two cornerstones -- two great players -- and build around them, that's generally how it works in this league. Now we've got the two pieces in place and it's just a matter of filling in around them."
For better or worse, this is Orlando's big play for the foreseeable future. There are few pieces to work with, in terms of landing another player of major significance. Expected to be a mainstay in the postseason now, there should be no more lottery picks.
Either Lewis lives up to expectations, earns his big bucks and takes the Magic to the next level or ... bust.
Lewis understands all this. He's embracing it. He mentioned his partnership with Howard as having an impact similar to that of Shaq and D-Wade or T-Mac and Yao.
Lewis knows a championship won't come overnight, but has already started brainstorming guys he can help recruit to come join him as building blocks. He plans on returning Sept. 1, more than a month before training camp, to start working out with the coaches and get familiar with the organization. His organization.
There was little more Lewis could do in Seattle. The Western Conference was too strong, and the Sonics' big men were always too weak. He has long fantasized about playing with someone like Howard and can't begin to imagine how much easier the game is going to be for him as a result.