When Rashard Lewis signed with the Miami Heat on July 10, there were those who welcomed the news, given that the two year signing (with a player option for the second year) was for a proven long range threat at the veteran's minimum, but there were also questions about his decreased production the past couple of years and whether he would be able to make any meaningful contributions to a deep team loaded with sharp shooters.
To hear coach Erik Spoelstra put it, they signed a player who can do much more than he did in Orlando, where he was asked to mostly roam the perimeter while playing with Dwight Howard. Even more promising, Lewis appears finally ready to put an injury-riddled past behind him and play pain-free under the supervision of the Heat's top notch training staff.
"He's been working out on the court for about six weeks and about the last two and a half weeks he's been playing and scrimmaging upstairs," said Spoelstra during the 2012 Media Day annual event at the AmericanAirlines Arena. "Immediately you start to see his skill set that hurt us so much when he was with Orlando. (He's) a multi-skilled player. He's not simply a three-point stretch shooter (though) he does that very well."
As far as being just a one-dimensional player, Spoelstra sees more potential in the 6'10", 230 lb. player who was moved from the small forward position he played with the Seattle Supersonics to power forward with the Magic after signing a gargantuan six-year $118 million contract. Five years later, almost exactly to the day, he signed a much smaller contract with the Heat but with the goal to revive his career at the age of 33.
"He's longer than you remember," Spoelstra observed of his newest reserve. "He has an ability to post up. What we like is he can defend multiple positions."
For his part, Lewis appreciates the short move to the state rivals and feels he is already acclimated to South Florida.
"I feel pretty comfortable," he said during a brief moment between shuttling around various photo sets on the main floor of the AAA. "I've been here for about a month, month and a half. I've got kids that go to school here. And then coming from Orlando, I mean it's different since Orlando is a little bit more laid-back and family oriented than Miami is, but at the same time that's just how I look at it. Playing in Orlando and then coming to Miami. I just look at it as being the same. I'm used to the same weather, especially (from living in) Texas, I'm used to the rain and the storms during the summer and all the lightning and then it's sunny ten minutes later (laughs)!"
The positive energy he exhibited is a result of settling down with a goal of being fully healed after being limited to just 85 games the past three seasons. For a shooter that has had a 45% career field goal percentage that dipped down to a career-low 38% last season with the Washington Wizards, it can have a huge effect for his body to not be at full strength. "Rashard has had a frustrating two years because he hasn't been injury-free," Spoelstra explained. "He feels as healthy as he's ever been. He mentioned to me the other day that it's the first time in two years that he's been able to lean down and pick up his kids because his knees felt that good. I use that word 'invigorated' but he really is. He has a new sense of opportunity in life.
"We've had to really preach patience with him and he's been an incredible, obedient participant with us because he's been so eager. He is really excited to get out there and play. He wanted to start playing a month ago, even though he was doing some running and shooting. We tempered that, everything was on a specific plan. Even up to a week ago, we were only allowing him to play 45 minutes of five-on-five. He amped that up this week. He's probably one of the few 32, 33 year old veterans that is salivating at the idea of a training camp."
There will be plenty of competition for minutes among plenty of notable shooters on this year's Miami Heat roster. The talent viewed together for the first time in the locker room on Friday was enough for MVP LeBron James to remark at Media Day that it was "scary". Needless to say, Lewis agrees.
"Oh man, yeah there's a lot of shooters in here with Mike Miller, Ray Allen and even JJ (James Jones)," he said. "It's unbelievable, I feel like the pressure is really on to really knock down the shots because I know these guys are going to knock it down.