Rashard Lewis found himself in a familiar place Tuesday afternoon.
He practiced with his current team, the Washington Wizards, on the Amway Center practice court he once used with his old team, the Orlando Magic. Four of the banners that he helped the Magic win still hang on the walls. A few pictures of him still adorn the Magic weight room.
"It just brings a smile back to my face," Lewis said afterward as he looked at the 2008-09 Eastern Conference championship banner.
Fans probably will see that familiar grin when Lewis' Wizards face the Magic tonight at Amway Center. It will be Lewis' first game at the arena as a player since he was traded to Washington for Gilbert Arenas on Dec. 18, 2010.
Lewis has adjusted.
In an interview Tuesday, as he sat in his old team's practice gym, Lewis revealed that it took him months to come to terms with the blockbuster trade. He went from a team with legitimate NBA title aspirations to a team headed for the NBA lottery. And although he had heard rumors that a trade was in the offing, the deal still caught him by surprise.
"At the time, when the trade happened, it was a blow," Lewis recalled.
"It was a huge blow. My main focus was to try and win the NBA championship for the city of Orlando. We got close one year. We'd been to the Eastern Conference finals the year after that. It was nothing but good times here when we were winning ballgames, and I put everything into trying to bring a championship for this city and for this team. It just seemed like it came crashing down all in one day."
On Dec. 17, the day before the deal, the Magic organization hosted 55 families from a nearby youth center for a holiday party at Amway Center. Players gave the kids brand-new, gleaming bicycles. The team set up activities on the arena grounds. Everything seemed just fine.
The next morning, everything felt different when the team gathered for its shootaround to prepare for that night's game against the Philadelphia 76ers.
"I woke up that morning and I kind of heard the rumors of a trade, but you always hear rumors of a million different trades or a million different things that go on in the NBA," Lewis said. "I didn't talk to the coach about it. I didn't talk to the GM [Otis Smith]. Nobody told me nothing.
"I came to the shootaround in the morning, and the vibe was weird. It was different at that shootaround that morning. Some guys were laughing and upbeat; maybe they knew about the trade, I don't know. It was just a different vibe.
"Then, when I left to go home, I ate my pregame meal and took a nap. My phone started ringing while I was asleep; I woke up and looked at my phone and I saw it was Otis calling. I pretty much knew what happened just by seeing him call."
Lewis didn't answer his phone right away.
He wanted to speak to his agent, Tony Dutt, before he talked with Smith.
It was official. Lewis had been traded for Arenas.
And, in a separate deal, the Magic sent Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat, Mickael Pietrus, a first-round draft pick and cash to Phoenix for Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Earl Clark.
Lewis said what made it tough was that he didn't have time to prepare. He had no inkling that he was on the trading block.
Lewis emphasized that he feels no ill will toward the Magic and that he wishes the best for the franchise that signed him to a huge free-agent contract in July 2007.
He remains in touch with former teammates, most notably point guard Jameer Nelson. He also hopes the Magic can retain Dwight Howard for the long-term.
He even said he rooted for the Magic in last spring's playoffs.
"I still felt like, in my heart, I was a part of that team, and I wanted them to win," he said.
"I still want this city to win the NBA championship. I thank them for everything that they've done for me: for giving me an opportunity to come and play here with Dwight Howard, with a first-class organization, with a great coach in Stan Van Gundy and with great fans."
Indeed, Lewis seems to have recovered — off and on the court.
Lewis and his longtime girlfriend, the former Giovanni Fortes, were married in August in California. They are expecting their third child together, a daughter, in May.
Lewis also has rebounded from the right-knee trouble that may have contributed to his lackluster play before his trade to Washington.
After missing 24 games last season after the deal, he now starts at small forward and is averaging 10.6 points and 4.2 rebounds per game.
He is posting-up and putting the ball on the floor more often.
Wizards coach Flip Saunders is happy with how Lewis has defended opposing wing players.
Lewis needs to be more of a team leader in Washington than he was in during his time in Orlando.
With the Magic, he was another veteran on a veteran team headed by Howard.
With the Wizards, he is an elder statesman surrounded by talented, but young, teammates such as point guard John Wall, power forward Andray Blatche and center JaVale McGee.
"He's a great person, so he's brought leadership," Saunders said.
"He's brought us the idea of not getting our heads down, playing the right way, playing very much team-oriented basketball."
Lewis, 32, sacrificed during his time in Orlando.
He is a natural small forward who played power forward without complaint. With Howard patrolling the middle, Lewis spent much of his time as a spot-up shooter. Lewis often was overmatched as a one-on-one defender against bigger opponents, but he was a good team defender who usually was in the right place.
"He's one of the greatest teammates and team players that I've been around in my career," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "He was willing to do anything."
The Magic went 40-42 the season before Lewis was acquired. They went 52-30 the next season.
Van Gundy said Lewis was the spark for that turnaround.
Told of Van Gundy's comments, Lewis said, "It most definitely means a lot. It means my time wasn't wasted here. And I'm not the only person that turned it around. Of course, Dwight Howard was a big part of that.
"And most definitely Stan Van Gundy was a huge part of that, the way he coached the game. I think a lot of guys take it for granted when he gets to screaming and yelling and nagging. He's doing it because he's coaching. He's not doing it because it's something personal against the guys on the team. And it shows out on the court; in the years he's been here, we got three Southeast Division championships and we got an Eastern Conference championship banner. That's not just from the players."
Lewis attended last February's Wizards-Magic game at Amway Center, but he did not play because of his sore knee.
Fans gave him a nice ovation when his image popped up on the arena's video board.
But even after 817 career regular-season NBA starts, he admits he will feel butterflies when he is introduced tonight.
"It'll be strange just to come back and play in this arena in front of the fans that I grew to love in the city I grew to love," Lewis said.
"I might shoot a airball on my first shot just because I'm a little nervous coming back and don't know how the people will accept me back here in Orlando. I think, hopefully, it'll be a warm reception. But at the same time, you just never know sometimes."
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