Thursday, July 12

In Defense of Rashard

Former Seattle Supersonics forward Rashard Lewis
On what should have been the happiest day of his life, Rashard Lewis instead heard his name dragged through the mud all over the internet yesterday, on the heels of signing a six-year deal with Orlando. From Bill Simmons to every blogger on the planet, Lewis couldn’t turn around without reading how ridiculous the Magic were for giving a punk like him so much money.

And while it’s fashionable to say that the Magic overpaid Lewis, that Lewis is a one-dimensional player who isn’t even that good at the one dimension, that Orlando is going to be handicapped in the future by the combination of Lewis and Howard’s contracts, allow me to say one thing:

Rashard Lewis is not a limp-wristed, shoot-only player whose contract is the worst in the history of professional sports. Rashard Lewis is a solid player who rarely if ever gets hurt, who doesn’t complain about minutes, shots, or anything else, and who is the perfect fit alongside Dwight Howard.

It’s true, Rashard is not a good defender. Heck, he’s barely an average defender. But the man is 6’10”, can handle the ball, can post up, can hit 3’s, and can score in transition. How many guys do you know who can do all of those things today in the NBA? 2? 3? 5?

Yes, Rashard is going to be wildly overpaid, especially at the end of his contract. But he’s only 27 years old and has at least 3 to 5 more years of peak productivity before his skills begin to decline. In other words, barring an unforeseen injury, he will give the Magic what they are expecting for the majority of his contract.

In my mind, that’s the crucial issue. After all, what’s worse – to pay Jerome James $5.4 million to score 1.9 points per game, or to pay Rashard Lewis $15 million to score 23? Is giving an all-star small forward max money worse than paying Adonal Foyle $9 mil a season to do whatever it is he does? Is Lewis’ deal worse than Raef LaFrentz’? Steve Francis’? Say what you will about Lewis, but the man is not a clubhouse cancer that will bitch to anyone who listens that he ought to be the star of the show.

Fine, the Magic overpaid Lewis, and his max salary will hurt the team’s flexibility in the future. His defense is weak, and he’s not the best rebounder in the history of basketball. But if I’m giving max contracts to people, I can do a lot worse than Rashard Lewis.

23 comments:

Jeremy said...

Here's the problem with the logic.

It's saying "Yeah, we just screwed up, but other people are doing it too." The clearest illustration on how much he was overpaid came a couple hours later when Gerald Wallace, who does play excellent defense and can score, signed for less than half of what Rashard made.

The object isn't to brush away mistakes by saying "Oh, well" The object is to learn from mistakes and minimize them. The Magic just committed between 25%-30% of their team payroll to Lewis, who is a 3rd option on a good team.

Would Detlef Schrempf have ever been worth a max contract on the Sonics? Is Peja Stojakovic worth a max contract?

I'm not excusing Isiah Thomas at all for the asinine contracts he's done, but this one isn't good at all. When history looks back on this contract, it will be listed with McIlvaine, Juwan Howard, Tim Thomas, Penny Hardaway, etc. as one of the worst contracts in basketball history.

Welcome to 6 more years of Grant Hill, boys.

Michael said...

I agree with you P-nuss.

They took the best player available, not most potential (KD), not best player unavailable (Billups), but best player available on the market today. That is always going to cost max and so they paid max. The NBA is FAR from a perfect market because supply is quite limited.

I think Rashard's scoring is underrated. People say he's only 22 points, not 25, but how many 22's did it alongside a 25 (ray)? When Ray was out Ra was a freak, putting up 30 pts a night. He is unmistakably a first option offensive player with his ability to score everywhere with a good %.

Rashard's defense will improve dramatically in a team with an actual defensive concept.

Still, I agree with the Sonics for letting him go and applaud their getting a draft pick and exception for a UFA. This is how regime changes work, I am glad they took care of the contracts now instead of lingering for years. The supes are too stacked at SF and need to have cap space to address bigger needs such as ALL 4 other positions =)

anonymous #12 said...

Great post, Pete. I agree with everything you wrote.

Every year, the top free agent or two will get a contract like this. It isn't Rashard's fault that he was at the top of the FA class this summer. Good for him. Orlando wasn't going to get him any other way. Were the Magic going to be a better team if they sat on their cap space? I think not.

It takes two stars to have a legit playoff team. I wasn't Lewis's biggest fan while he was here but I think he and the Magic will be quite satisfied with the deal they've made.

Anonymous said...

I think the Magic expect Lewis to move up to 25+ pt scoring level. They overpaid but if they get that (without more injuries or worse defense) then judge his contract by those peers.

P Nussbaum said...

Assuming Rashard stays healthy, I don't think there's any way you can compare his deal to people like McIlvaine. I'd much rather pay someone who produces $15 million than pay someone who doesn't $8 or $9. At least for $15 you're getting something in the deal.

The way I see it, Lewis is entering the prime of his career right now. Look at other small forwards - Chambers, English etc. - they all peak right at 27-32, which is the age range Lewis is entering.

You're right, arguing that other people are doing it is a lousy argument. I'm not arguing that it's a good deal - the Magic have bound themselves to the Lewis/Howard tandem in much the same way the Sonics bound themselves to the Allen/Lewis tandem. We'll have to wait a couple of years to see if it works out for them better than in Seattle.

My argument is that to say that Lewis' contract is the worst in NBA history is a joke. It's not even close. Yes, he's overpaid, but the Magic aren't gambling on him the way teams gambled on McIlvaine or other big stiffs. I will bet anything you want that Lewis averages 20 ppg for each of the next 3 seasons, and I think anybody would agree.

The Wallace comparison is an interesting one. Wallace has it all over Lewis defensively, nobody can argue that. I suspect one reason his contract isn't as big boils down to two things:

1. He's not as good a scorer as Rashard (look at their career FT and 3-pt percentages)
2. He's much more likely to get hurt

It's fine to wave that off due to his energetic play, but the problem is that you're paying him for 82 games, whether he plays in them or not. It doesn't do any good to average 18 points, 2 steals and 2 blocks if you're on the bench.

Oh, and one more thing:

3. The Magic are desperate

Anonymous said...

I think the best argument against this situation is that the Magic should have just waited until next summer, when people like Duncan, Marion, Arenas, and Elton Brand will be free agents. I don't know how it would have worked cap-wise for them, but wouldn't it make more sense to pay Marion the max than Rashard?

Pat M. said...

To be honest, I would rather have Wallace than Lewis.

Ben Q. Rock said...

I think this signing is gaining a lot more notoriety than it would have if it weren't Orlando. We don't have a great reputation as a sports town, largely because of Magic front-office miscues. I suspect that a lot of people had one of those Oh, here they go AGAIN moments after hearing the numbers on Lewis' contract.

Basically, if it were Charlotte giving him $118 million over six years, it wouldn't have turned into such a huge story.

Keith said...

I think Rashard can develop into a solid #1 scoring option for Orlando. He'll never be all-NBA, and I don't think it's a smart move to pay him a max contract. But Simmons saying it's the worst contract ever (or that he's only a $50m player) is crazy. I'm actually a fan of Simmons, but think he's off-base here in the degree to which he's dogging the deal.

Jeremy said...

Pete,

Lewis is essentially the 10th-15th best SF in the league.

The top guys are Marion, Anthony, Pierce and LeBron.

The next tier of guys is Josh Howard, Gerald Wallace, Tayshaun Prince, Caron Butler, Luol Deng, Shane Battier, Ron Artest, Richard Jefferson, Lamar Odom, Andrei Kirilenko. This is the group that Rashard falls into. Most of these guys have been All Stars at least once. Most of them also play defense.

Depending on where Durant ends up long term, he could also be in that top tier. Rashard never will because of his abhorrent defense and lack of secondary skills.

That is clearly not a max player. It is easier to get out of a 5 million dollar mistake than a 20 million dollar mistake.

The Sonics weren't perennially mediocre because they overpaid for James and Booth. They were perennially mediocre because they gave the reigns to 2 guys that weren't franchise players and paid them as if they were.

The franchise players in the league right now are Kobe, Duncan, LeBron, Carmelo (maybe), Nash, Amare, KG, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, D Wade. There may be 1 or 2 I missed.

Any others getting franchise money are overpaid.

Nuss said...

That's what I was trying to say, before I got too long-winded. It's not that it's a good deal, or even a smart deal for Orlando. It's clearly too much money for a player of Rashard's talents. But to call it the worst deal in the history of the NBA is just crazy. Lewis isn't a terrible player. He's a borderline all-star, and he will be for the next 3-5 years.

OVERWADED said...

As everyone already knows, Lewis has improved all 9 seasons he has been in the league. Is it not a safe bet to assume his game will only get better next season; not only because he's going into the prime of his career, but for the first time in his career he'll have a dominate big man on his side. That simple fact alone should make a huge difference. A great big man makes everyone on the team better, and Rashard is a guy that was already putting up 23 without that luxury. So while I agree that it's a ton of money, I don't think Orlando will regret it; unless he breaks his ankle...knock on wood.

Jeremy said...

nuss,

Here's the crux of my point.

Jim McIlvaine, Calvin Booth, Jerome James deals were all bad deals. But those kind of deals aren't the ones that cripple franchises. It's the Grant Hill deal, the Marbury deal, the Lewis deal that can cripple franchises. The Magic had a great building block. They have probably cost themselves a chance to the the second franchise player they will need to compete for the title. They are probably looking at 4-5 years of 2nd round exits and wasting a bunch of D. Howard's promising career.

OVERWADED said...

Why can't Rashard Lewis be that guy? How or why is he not good enough to be Dwight's sidekick; especially in the East?

P Nussbaum said...

Overwaded makes a good point. Lewis+Howard makes the Magic one of the better teams in the East right now. That could have played a role in Otis Smith's thinking, that he has a chance to go far in the playoffs this season by getting Rashard now. By waiting until next summer to move, he wastes a big opportunity to go far in the playoffs.

OVERWADED said...

The East is open for the taking, and probably half of the teams in the East think they can make some noise this coming season.

And like P Nussbaum said, Lewis+Howard does give the Magic something a lot of teams do not have, a legit 1,2 punch and they actually compliment each others game.

As for waiting until summer, there is no such thing as patience in life, let alone sports. The Magic are trying to close a deal on a new arena. Fans in Orlando lost their patience 11 years ago when Shaq left for the most part.

I thought if they were going to wait for anyone, it should have been Gilbert Arenas, but there are no guarantees. What happens if they wait and they can't convince the guy they're targeting to leave his current team? Then they're SOL...

If anything, Orlando fans should be grateful to sign Lewis. It could have been worse; they could have gone after Vince Carter and gave him a big contract. Talk about the next Grant Hill...

Walterego said...

Scathing review by Chad Ford of the Magic deal:

http://insider.espn.go.com/nba/insider/columns/story?columnist=ford_chad&id=2934997&lpos=spotlight&lid=tab2pos1&action=login&appRedirect=http%3a%2f%2finsider.espn.go.com%2fnba%2finsider%2fcolumns%2fstory%3fcolumnist%3dford_chad%26id%3d2934997%26lpos%3dspotlight%26lid%3dtab2pos1

Jeremy said...

Lewis has been in the league 9 years now. He has never shown the skillset to be a legit franchise player within that 9 year period. Can you give me an example of any player that became a franchise player in their 10th year or later? I certainly can't think of any.

dmbank said...

Lewis may not be a franchise player, but I see Lewis and Howard making the Magic much better in the minor (Eastern) conference. Rashard's defense will improve because the interior won't be as wide open as it has been, and his offense will improve as he will be the #1 scoring option on that team. He should see a couple more All-Star games, and I think that the DH+RL combo will work much better than Yao & T-Mac.

Chris said...

I think with Rashard though he never really got a chance to be a franchise player. He played with both GP and Ray, 2 players who like to have the ball in their hands. Rashard could have become that type of player if he was put in that position like he has now.

I think of it kind of like T-mac's situation. with the raptors he wasn't doing much even in his final year there it was vince's team. his final year in TO he put up 16.7 point, 7 boards and 3 assists. compare that with the next year (his 1st in orlando) he had 33.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 8.3 assists. Granted, it wasn't his 10th season but he had the opportunity to become the franchise player because there was no other scoring option on the magic at the time.

Rashard is now in the position that he's the #1 scoring option so his points could increase, he has other people on the team that can put up points in d12, hedo, redick, nelson so his assists might improve slightly. his rebounds could use a bump as his career average is 2 under mcgrady's but even those could move up if he becomes less of an outside player. i'm not saying he'll for sure be a franchise player but i don't see why he couldn't be now that an opportunity is presenting itself.

brian said...

Rashard will be a LOT better in orlando. He will thrive off of the double teams that Howard will draw in the paint, unlike with ray who was also a perimeter player. Also he will be co-starring with someone who is an above average rebounder and defender, both things that ray was not. Having someone who is more than solid in his two weaknesses will make them less visible and less of an issue. Not to mention the fact that he will have the majority of plays drawn up specifically for him, finally taking full advantage of his offensive versatility.

I'm drafting our boy HIGH in my fantasy league next year...

Anonymous said...

Simmons and the rest of the world are right - max contracts belong to franchise players.

Rashard Lewis is a nice complimentary player who wisely opted out during one of the weakest free agent markets in years.

JJ said...

Did Orlando likely overpay - YES

Could they have handled this better - Yes & here is how:

If I were them I would have made my offer & told RL up-Front > We will do a 5-Year deal at our MAX capacity - PERIOD. No sign & Trade. Adding the 6th year at HUGE $$$$ and higher raises along the way hurts too which he got because the Sonics could do that. I think they could have had RL if they had done that & it would have been smarter.

I think they overpaid in the sense that they could have gotten RL for 5 years at cheaper money because of lower annual raises without the S&T with Seattle. If they had come in with this appraoch it still satisfies his ego and the Sonics still would not have matched. Obvioulsy I realize I am guessing a bit but that is what we all do in this.

But... I think RL makes a ton of sense for them for all the reasons several of you have noted:

1. He is in his prime
2. He compliments Howard beautifully
3. He makes Orlando a Legit playoff team NOW is the terrible EAST
4. He is a solid teamate & locker room guy.
5. He played fantastic last year when Ray was out

I think RL will have a great season & career with Orlando. Yes they overpaid but not likely in such a way that will "Cripple" the team. Guys like that are Steve Franis who disappeared as a productive player - I don't see RL doing that.

Big Risk - Yes I think they overpaid but maybe not is a terrible way. If RL has a few all-star seasons it may be worth it.

Seriously - the EAST sucks so bad anyone who gets in the playoffs is a threat to go to the finals next year - Orlando is taking the risk & going for it now as Howard enters his prime too. Overpaid on Lewis yes - But maybe it will be OK if he & Howard take them to the finals one or 2 times - could happen from my perspective.