NBA PM: The Reemergence of Rashard Lewis

Rashard Lewis has emerged as Miami’s most important player outside of the Big Three, after barely playing for much of the season … The Spurs reflect on their sustained success

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The Reemergence of Rashard Lewis

Two summers ago, Rashard Lewis had just been bought out and was determined to join a contender. He was coming off of back-to-back lottery seasons in Washington and a trade to New Orleans, and he wanted to be return to the postseason and add a championship to his impressive resume. Shortly after hitting the open market, Lewis received interest from a number of teams including the Los Angeles Lakers and Atlanta Hawks among others.

Then, Lewis received an unexpected phone call.

“Pat Riley called,” Lewis said with a smile. “He called and said, ‘This is Pat Riley.’ I’m like, ‘Who? Nah, this is someone playing on the phone. Who is this?’”

Once he realized that it really was Riley on the other end, he was ecstatic. The defending champion Miami HEAT were interested in signing Lewis, to put him alongside LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the recently-signed Ray Allen. As a 14-year veteran who desperately wanted to win his first championship, Miami was by far the most attractive situation for Lewis. He knew that he’d be able to go deep into the playoffs and get plenty of open looks since he would be surrounded by star players. He set up a meeting and, several days later, finalized a contract with the HEAT.

Lewis had been offered more playing time and money elsewhere, but at this point in his career competing for a title was the most important thing for Lewis. He had cashed lucrative paychecks and achieved individual success, but he wanted to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy before his playing career came to an end. During his introductory press conference with the HEAT, a giddy Lewis sat next to his former Seattle SuperSonics teammate Allen and couldn’t stop smiling.

However, Lewis’ first season in Miami didn’t go exactly as he planned. While he knew he was signing up for a smaller role on the HEAT, he didn’t realize that there would be many nights he didn’t play at all. Last season, he appeared in just 55 regular season games and averaged just 14.4 minutes. In the 2013 playoffs, he saw the floor even less, appearing in just 11 games and averaging 4.3 minutes. Lewis was able to win his first title last year, but he was more of an observer than contributor for the HEAT. He barely played in the 2013 NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, but still enjoyed the ride.

It seemed like Lewis’ role would be similar this postseason, after he played in just 60 games and averaged 16.2 minutes during this year’s regular season. Through the first 11 games of these playoffs, Lewis averaged just 1.9 points while shooting 25 percent from the field and 14.3 percent from three.

Then, Chris Andersen suffered a thigh injury in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers and suddenly Lewis was thrust into Miami’s starting lineup. Now, after sitting for much of the season, Lewis has emerged as arguably the most productive HEAT player outside of James, Bosh and Wade.

Over the last five games, the 34-year-old has averaged 13.8 points and has scored in double figures in every contest. He has hit 18 three-pointers over that span, sinking 52.9 percent of his long-range attempts. Lewis is the perfect example of a veteran who stays ready all season long and then delivers when his number is called.

“You always want to stay mentally prepared,” Lewis said. “I knew, especially with Mike Miller not being here anymore, I knew we would have to go to someone on the bench who would need to step their game up and go win ball games. On any night, it can be someone different – it can be Shane Battier, James Jones, Toney Douglas or myself. I think we all know that, and all stay prepared and ready.

“I had pretty much the same approach [after being moved into the starting lineup]. It was an increased opportunity for me, getting more playing time, [that led to this production]. It was more just focusing on being a role player and doing the little things to help us win the ball game, just trying to defend and do the small things to get us to that next level.”

“He’s had a big impact,” HEAT head coach Erik Spoelstra said of Lewis. “Look, our team is built on sacrifice.  A lot of guys have had to sacrifice in their games to do different things for us to be successful.  Veteran players have had to sacrifice minutes.  We talk about it all the time, that this team and this opportunity isn’t for everybody. Rashard signed up for it two years ago knowing that it wouldn’t be quite the role that he’s had before, but it could still be a significant role and you could have great playoff moments. He’s kept himself ready, he’s an absolute pro. … It might look easy from the outside for veteran players to sacrifice and give up minutes, [but it’s not]; they could probably get more [playing time] other places, but they understand the big picture and what this team is built for. Rashard at times this year wasn’t playing, but he kept himself ready.”

This is the most productive stretch that Lewis has had in years. Prior to this run, the last time he had five straight games in double figures was back in January of 2011, shortly after the Wizards acquired him. The last time he had five straight postseason games in double figures was in April of 2010, when he was still on the Magic.

“He’s showing a little bit of his younger bounce right now, and I think he’s feeling the healthiest he’s felt in two years,” Spoelstra said. “He’s been building for it.  He’s really been working hard behind the scenes. We were able to give him enough minutes during the regular season, but not wear him out at his age, that now he can [contribute]. Not necessarily it was planned for this, but he kept himself ready, and when the opportunity happened, you’re seeing a fresh body right now. He always was skilled.  His skill set is one of the reasons we went after him.  He was coached well, was in a defensive system, was already in a spread system offensively that’s very similar to ours.  We thought he’d be a terrific fit and is a veteran player that’s willing to sacrifice.  There aren’t a lot of those types of guys. He was willing to sacrifice and sit out oftentimes for weeks on end, but he kept himself ready.  His body was getting stronger, healthier and he gave us a punch.  There’s no question about it. We talk about it all the time with our team.  It’s about moments.  It’s not necessarily about every single game or minute during January and February.  It’s about the big moments, keeping yourself ready and having an opportunity to make an impact at some point during the postseason.”

Miami is already a juggernaut with so many weapons, but they’re even tougher to slow down when Lewis is spreading the floor and producing at this high level.

“Rashard has been huge for us ever since he’s been inserted into our starting lineup, from the Indiana series,” James said. “He’s been in this position before. He’s been to the Finals with Orlando Magic. He’s been in huge playoff games, and his experience and ability to knock down shots helps us out a lot. It spreads the floor for us, and every time he catches the ball, we tell him just to shoot it. Don’t think about nothing else besides shooting the ball, and we live with his results.”

“He’s done a great job for us,” Norris Cole said of Lewis. “On the defensive end, he’s been good and on the offensive end, he’s a great ball mover and obviously spreads the floor with his three-point shooting ability. He’s an ultimate pro. That’s why he’s been in the league for so long. He’s a super veteran. He has played in the Finals before and he has played in big playoff moments before. He’s been the leading scorer on teams before. Knocking down shots is part of his arsenal – that’s what he does as a professional.”

Lewis understands his role and he describes the star-laden HEAT as a perfect situation for a shooter.

“It’s makes it easier, it makes it easier for myself to have guys like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and even Ray Allen out on the court around me because you have to double team those guys and it leaves me wide open,” Lewis said. “All I have to do is knock those shots down when I’m wide open.”

As a 16-year NBA veteran, Lewis is respected among his peers and considered one of the best shooters of all-time. He has scored over 15,500 points over the course of his career and he has hit the eighth-most three-pointers in NBA history.

“He’s a great player who can really score the ball from the three-point line,” Marco Belinelli said of Lewis. “I have a lot of respect for him. I mean, he’s one of the best three-point shooters in history. Everybody knows what he can do, and we have to stay very close to him because he can score the ball from three. But they really play together. LeBron is just amazing – he really finds open guys and he’s really been looking for Rashard at the three-point line. It’s tough.”

“It is a little different [having Lewis play in this year’s Finals], since he’s taking the minutes from Shane Battier pretty much and he’s a great shooter,” Boris Diaw said. “We have to be careful and locate him at all times. He has definitely spread the floor for them.”

“He’s a stretch-four who is making a lot of shots; he’s really kind of doing what [Mike] Miller did for them last year,” Tiago Splitter said. “I think we have to do a little bit of a better job on him. Sometimes we have left him a little bit too open, and he’s scoring the ball well.”

“He’s been playing great for them,” Danny Green said. “He’s been shooting the ball really well and we didn’t expect that from him. He’s a guy who we’re going to have to focus on a little bit more. He’s getting a lot of threes in transition, and we can’t let him get those clean looks. It just shows how deep their team is, how good their bench is. When one guy isn’t hitting [shots] or playing, they have others. Last year, it was Mike Miller and Shane Battier. They don’t have Mike anymore, but they still have Shane. They also have James Jones and obviously Ray Allen; just so many shooters on the bench that they can choose from. This year, Rashard has been stepping up and knocking down shots. It complements them having multiple shooters on the perimeter. It makes them that much more dangerous because then we can’t just pack the paint, we have to rotate to those guys. It really shows how deep of a team they are.”

When Lewis was told that Green said the Spurs “didn’t expect” him to shoot the ball so well, he laughed.

“I guess the past couple of years I haven’t been getting a lot of playing time; hopefully I’m not on the scouting report and I can keep shooting it well so they can keep leaving me over there in that corner,” Lewis said with a smile. “I’m surprised Danny Green said that, as a three-point shooter. He should know his history of three-point shooters.”

Lewis’ place in that history is cemented; now he’s just hoping to add to his ring collection.


Spurs Reflect on Their Sustained Success

There’s no question that the San Antonio Spurs are the NBA’s model franchise. They have earned this label because they excel at identifying talent, developing players and playing unselfish basketball, which has led to sustained success for the franchise. The Spurs have won 50 or more games in every full season since 1997-98, hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy four times in that span.

It’s rare for a team to keep the same core pieces in place for over a decade, but that’s exactly what the Spurs have done with Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. This group has allowed the Spurs to contend each and every season, even when outsiders counted the team out due to their age or minor personnel moves. Now, they’re two wins away from yet another championship and they took some time today to reflect on their success.

“Well, I think what we have accomplished hasn’t been seen a lot in many other cities or teams,” Ginobili said. “Maybe you saw it with the Lakers or Celtics, but having a group of three players and a coach for more than a decade and winning three or four championships and making it to the Finals.  I don’t know what the word “dynasty” means exactly, but I know that we accomplished a lot of things.  We won a lot of games together.”

“I think in the last couple years I’ve really kind of taken a step back and stopped and enjoyed what the journey means,” Duncan said. “I think, as it comes to a close on my career, and I know it is, I appreciate it more.  I appreciate every game more.  I appreciate every accomplishment, and everything that we get to go through and every experience, knowing that it might be the last time I do it.”

Popovich credits Duncan, Ginobili and Parker’s attitude and approach for their sustained excellence.

“I guess the most enjoyable thing is that they’re team‑oriented players,” Popovich said. “They’ve gotten over themselves is what we always talk about.  It’s absolutely not about any one of them, and they know that.  Last night Timmy and Manu didn’t do anything amazing, but they are thrilled for Danny [Green] and Kawhi [Leonard] and for the few minutes Matt Bonner gave us, that sort of thing.  If you have three people on your team that lead the way in that manner, it’s to be enjoyed on a daily basis.  So that’s probably the first thing I’ve enjoyed about them.  It makes my job so much easier.”

There’s no question that San Antonio is a modern dynasty, and basketball fans should appreciate their greatness while they still can.

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