The Most Baffling Summer Signing
General managers generally lose their minds this time of year. By now, everyone is aware that the Orlando Magic grossly overpaid for Rashard Lewis in a move that will scrutinized for the duration of his contract. The move has harkened past blunders and brought Jon Koncak back into our consciousness.
Lewis won't be able to live up to the exorbitant contract (believed to be worth about $118 million over six years) and it still remains ludicrous that the Magic would give him an extra year - and about $24 million - so that he will have a deal that places him in the same class as Shaquille O'Neal and Kevin Garnett. And even if he does, the Magic weren't obligated to give him that money.
Lewis is 6-10, can score from anywhere on the floor and is a fairly consistent shooter, but he is a one-time all-star - fringe at that - who has only been to the playoffs three times. Lewis is still relatively young (he turns 28 in August), but he's been in the league nine years and has yet to establish himself as anything more than a scorer. He's also never been the best player on his team. He isn't now, with Dwight Howard, the franchise center, signing a 5-year, $85 million extension yesterday.
We've seen teams overpay for star talents many times and live to regret the deals later on. Cleveland feels a bit burned for unloading $70 million on Larry Hughes, but - even given Hughes's run of injuries - that seems reasonable when you consider that the Cavaliers have been to the NBA Finals (albiet without a healthy Hughes) and the Magic made a financial commitment to Lewis that nearly equals two of the largest contracts signed this summer for Vince Carter (four years, $61 million) and Gerald Wallace (six years, $57 million).
Lewis, Carter and Wallace each play the same position. Carter, even at 30, is by far a more exciting player than Lewis, and some would argue that Wallace, still a babe at just 24, is more well-rounded. Yet Lewis is the league's first $100 million man since Kobe Bryant. Bryant is already discovering, much like Garnett, that more money means more problems if your organization can't build a team around you.
This deal makes no sense - and that goes beyond my assertion that a maximum salary player able to lead his team to a championship (or at least make them a consistent title contender) and be first- or second-team all-NBA. The Magic threw this money at Lewis only seconds after it finally escaped the albatross known as Grant Hill's $93 million deal. Hadn't Orlando learned its lesson? Hill's deal was debilitating and his run of injuries left the Magic hamstrung for seven years because both sides were stuck with each other and no team was willing to bite. I'm not saying that Lewis will get hurt (I hope not), but the Magic wasn't even slightly scared of diving head-first into another potentially salary-cap crippling deal?
Orlando has had a string of misfortune strike its only major professional franchise, with the O'Neal's defection to Los Angeles in 1996 still casting a dark shadow. The Magic hasn't won a playoff series since Shaq's departure. Did he take the Magic with him? (Should the Los Angeles Lakers be concerned that Shaq put some "Til You Do Right By Me" Curse on them, too? But I digress.) Penny Hardaway, Tracy McGrady and most recently, Hill, have all skipped town since then. O'Neal, Hardaway and Hill left the Magic empty handed, and considering how badly things ended for Steve Francis in Orlando, McGrady practically did, too.
The pressure is squarely on Lewis to produce a championship or be considered a bust. It's an all-or-nothing pact. Lewis moved from the obsurity of Seattle to a situation where he has to deliver not only on the floor, but at the box office, with the Magic fighting for a new arena and possibly on the verge of relocating. He will also be asked to exorcise Shaq's ghost (I know Shaq's still alive, but you know what I mean) and save a franchise. Nothing much.
I also find it baffling that the Magic also sacrificed Darko Milicic to secure Lewis. I'll be honest, when I heard Orlando was going after Lewis, I thought they needed to have Milicic, too, to be considered a serious contender in the East. It's ridiculous that they decided to pick one over the other, when they were basically bidding against themselves for Lewis. Charlotte and Seattle were the only teams that could've signed Lewis and neither side was willing to break the bank for a good, but not great player like Lewis.
And considering what it cost Memphis to sign Milicic ($21 million over three years), they easily could've kept both with a little more discipline and savvy.
Say what you will about Milicic - he'll never be in the class of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and other stars selected after him in 2003, he must be a bum if two franchises have already given up on him - but the fact remains that he is just 22, and he's 7-feet tall.
He didn't have to be a monster for Orlando to be productive. With Lewis and Howard getting most of the touches on offense, Milicic only needed to block shots (which is he very capable of doing), rebound and score on occasion. Now the Magic have two cornerstones in Lewis and Howard, but no big men to protect them. I'm not predicting greatness for Milicic in Memphis, but he certainly was worth taking a chance on, considering the Magic already surrendered a first-round draft pick to get him.
Detroit Pistons President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars' decision to deal Milicic for scraps and a draft pick in February 2006 doesn't look as bad today (he'll never be able to live down actually drafting Milicic). And if Rodney Stuckey turns into something special for the Pistons, this Lewis deal will look that much worse for Orlando.
I just hope Lewis is really up for the challenge.
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