ORLANDO, Fla. -- A few minutes before
Rashard Lewis was
formally announced as the newest member of the Orlando Magic, the
high-scoring forward donned his white-and-blue uniform and made his
way through the team's practice facility.
"Feeling good," Lewis said, stopping to shake hands with
well-wishers. "Feeling good."
That's no surprise, considering he'd just received a six-year
contract worth more than $110 million with the Magic and an
opportunity he coveted to play with All-Star center Dwight Howard
on a team that Lewis believes could quickly become a major factor
in the Eastern Conference.
Lewis formally joined the Magic on Wednesday, leaving the
Seattle SuperSonics after nine seasons when the teams completed a
sign-and-trade deal. The Magic sent Seattle a conditional
second-round pick, while the SuperSonics earned a trade exception
believed to be in the $9 million range.
"We set out at the start of free agency to get a big-time
player, someone who could score the basketball," Magic general
manager Otis Smith said. "We targeted that guy and we got that
Lewis averaged a career-best 22.4 points last season for
Seattle, where he spent his first nine years after jumping straight
to the NBA from high school and going early in the second round of
the 1998 draft. He's averaged more than 20 points in each of the
last three seasons, and is the SuperSonics' career leader in
3-point field goals with 973.
He wanted to leave Seattle because he believes the Sonics are
"starting over," and began scouting out teams that he felt were a
piece or two away from being title contenders. Orlando has long
been atop his list.
"They're a young, talented team that ... has nowhere to go but
up," the 27-year-old Lewis said. "I feel like I'm still young and
still peaking, improving as a player and I can grow with this group
Lewis agreed to terms with the Magic earlier this month, yet no
deal could be closed until Wednesday, the first day that the
league's free agent moratorium was lifted. The pact with Orlando
originally was for five years, but the sign-and-trade allowed an
extra year to be worked into the contract.
Either way, Lewis said he knew the deal would get done.
"I already knew where my heart was," Lewis said. "My decision
was probably made even before these guys put a contract out
Still, teams continued wooing him, even into Wednesday. Lewis
said the Houston Rockets sent a personalized jersey to his door,
but he never wavered on his desire to form a solid 1-2 punch with
Howard in Orlando.
"I don't know if the formula of a great perimeter player and a
great inside guy has failed very often," Magic coach Stan Van
Gundy said. "Those are always very good teams. There may be other
ways to do it, but the most tried-and-true formula in this league
is to have one great perimeter player and one great inside
That combo should be together for a long time; the Magic will announce an $85 million, five-year extension with Howard on
"It really makes our roster very, very good," Van Gundy said.
"And even more than that, what this says to me and what our
organization has done with Rashard shows me and should show
everyone out there how committed this organization is to winning
and winning a championship."
Lewis called the Western Conference the "juggernaut of the
NBA," and most observers wouldn't argue that that side of the
league -- with Phoenix, Dallas and reigning league champion San
Antonio, among others, leading the way -- is superior to most teams
in the East, where LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers made a
mildly surprising run to the finals this past season.
And Lewis said watching James lead the Cavs out of the East only
further cemented his belief that the Magic could quickly ascend
into contention, something he just didn't think would be possible
if he remained in Seattle.
"What's different from us and Cleveland?" Lewis said. "I feel
like we're going to have a chance to maybe even get to the finals