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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Uh, Oh, It's Magic: Orlando Agrees to Terms With Rashard Lewis

There are no "franchise players" available among this year's free agents but the Orlando Magic believe that Rashard Lewis can be the perfect outside complement to inside force Dwight Howard, their franchise player in training. Several outlets are reporting that Lewis will sign a max level five year contract with the Magic. Lewis averaged 22.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg and 1.1 spg last season. He ranked 11th in minutes per game (39.1), though he did miss 22 games. He has averaged at least 20 ppg, 5 rpg and 1 spg for three straight seasons; those may not seem like tremendously gaudy numbers but only a handful of NBA players have sustained that level of production during that period, two of them being Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. No one would suggest for one minute that Lewis is even close to being as good as either of those All-NBA stalwarts, but he is a major upgrade over Grant Hill and Hedo Turkoglu; Hill may be on his way out of Orlando and headed to a team that he feels can more immediately contend for a title (he seems to have his sights set on Phoenix). Signing Lewis does not make Orlando a championship contender, of course, but it could be worth 8-10 wins in the standings, which would mean having home court advantage in the first round.

Meanwhile, in a short period of time Seattle has gotten a lot younger and less experienced, losing All-Stars Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis while bringing in second overall pick Kevin Durant and fifth overall pick Jeff Green. Hopes are high in Seattle and the future may indeed be bright but the Western Conference is loaded. Seattle will probably take a step back in the standings--or at least move laterally--before moving forward. Seattle's top returning scorer is Chris Wilcox (13.5 ppg). How will Durant, Green and the remaining Seattle players make up for the nearly 50 ppg that Allen and Lewis scored last year? Also, while neither of those players is great at drawing fouls, they easily ranked first and second on the team in free throw attempts and both of them are splendid free throw shooters. Maybe this is all part of some master plan but at this juncture it certainly seems like it would have been preferable to retain the services of at least one of the team's All-Stars to serve as a leader and as a mentor to young Durant. Think of how Joe Dumars helped a young Grant Hill; Allen would seem to be well suited to play a Dumars-like role for Durant. Seattle fans must now hope that Green's proverbial "upside" is worth getting rid of one of the league's best pure shooters, a player who has averaged at least 21.8 ppg for eight straight seasons, including a career-high 26.4 ppg last season. Yes, injuries limited Allen to 55 games but he says that he is fully healthy now and ready to go. It is interesting to see how executives in each conference are apparently thinking: Western Conference teams like Portland and Seattle are blowing everything up and starting over from scratch, hoping to nurture young rosters to the point that they can either challenge the Spurs or succeed them as Tim Duncan ages; Eastern Conference teams like Boston and Orlando look at how LeBron James seemed to singlehandedly lead the Cavaliers to the Finals and feel like all they have to do is add one All-Star in order to vie for conference supremacy.

posted by David Friedman @ 6:41 AM

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