We have moved on from the Gilbert Arenas era with admirable poise, but it's difficult for me to talk about Rashard Lewis' impact on the personality of the locker room without at least giving lip service to the man he replaced. We've heard enough about Gil being like the crazy hot girlfriend who alternated between rocking your world and burning it down, and the difficulty of trying to create a new life when you can hardly remember it without her.
Much like the Carmelo Anthony effect in Denver, intensifying trade traffic between Orlando and Washington contributed to the Wiz dropping 10 of their 11 previous games by an average of 12.4 points, winning one game by four points against Portland. We've dropped 11 of 17 games since Lewis came on board by an average of 11.6 points, which isn't much better than before. However, our six victories during that stretch have come by an average of 8.7 points. This is obviously a flawed statistic, as three of those victories, against Sacramento, Toronto and Utah, weren't secured until late, when significant leads evaporated in the waning minutes.
So what exactly is Lewis bringing to the table, on the court and to the culture, that had me up in arms when NBA.com's midseason report card called him an empty jersey? Find out why after the jump. And it's not his smattering of double-doubles.
Sure, he's rebounding well above expectations, though that may be more of an indictment of our frontcourt than anything else. There was that 65-second stretch during the New Jersey blowout where he connected on three treys in 65 seconds. His assist numbers are up, taking a bit of the pressure off John Wall to do everything when he's breaking down under the strain of a full NBA season.
Bu my thing is that he's doing it like a quiet professional, and that as the players watch him learning his place in the team while showing them where he fits, they are learning to do so themselves.
"Now my ultimate goal is to try to get this team in the playoffs or hopefully in the hunt to make the playoffs. I think that should be the goal, and to help these guys grow and be a veteran in the locker room, not by voice but most definitely by example."
Lewis' example of humility and willingness was anything but assured, and it's no secret some bitter Orlando fans were gleefully awaiting a meltdown. Instead we've seen quiet production as Lewis works on getting integrated with teammates.
He's been just as unflappable on the court, a veteran counterpoint to Kirk Hinrich's intensity. Gerald Henderson had an excellent quote after the Bobcats pulled away at the end of the 3rd quarter on the 8th:
Sometimes when teams make a turnover they aren't really focused on the next play right away. We got the ball out quickly and got an easy basket.
Which highlights this quote from Wall following Wednesday night's lost to MIL:
Back home we have so much energy and so much extra bounce in our step on defense, but on the road it's horrible. We're just a step too slow, nobody is getting to the basket, nobody is getting charges. We're averaging at least two or three charges at home, a couple more blocked shots. It's the little stuff at home we don't do on the road.
And the team has commented that those chase down blocks, those charges, turn in to two points here, two points there that aren't on the board come fourth quarter at home. When turnovers sap the teams' willpower to make those hustle plays, the self-fulfilling prophecy 'Here We Go Again', comes full circle. Rashard is making the plays to keep us grounded during crunch time ... as long as he's got some gas left in the tank ... Flip, my eye, wanders in your direction.
Another bonus in his arrival is how he's earned Flip's confidence. If that doesn't seem especially significant, I think having Shard out there gives him the confidence not to yank JaVale McGee right away, to put Kevin Seraphin on the floor longer than 30 seconds at the end of the half.
But all of this depends on Rashard hitting his three ball, rebounding, and posting up. Nobody, in any profession, wants to learn from someone who isn't executing, veteran or not. What this team really needs from their veteran is an emotional anchor. And just like flowers can't grow if it never stops raining, a young team can't learn to win if they can't stop losing.
"Yeah it felt like a road game. We didn't have no heart. We didn't have no fight. We just gave up pretty quick."
John Wall's quote following the Suns loss Friday night looks a lot to me like rock bottom. Another pithy truism is that once you're that far down, there's nowhere to go but up. But just like the Clippers will tell you, it's perfectly possible you don't rebound at all (no pun intended). No bounce, no play. As anyone who watched us play the Bucks and Suns, the Wizards looked pretty flat.
But that 'empty jersey' kept us close against a 'ridiculously good' defense without taking over the game, and gave our youth the chance to shine. As much as I love Gil, that's not something he was ever able to do. Rashard Lewis' value to this organization is that he is precisely the kind of veteran that can help this team show growth and winning are not mutually exclusive.