One after another the three-pointers dropped.
The Heat’s first day of training camp had just ended, and Rashard Lewis was running through his post-practice shooting routine and putting on a show. He got to the top of the key and couldn’t miss. At one point, he drained 11 three-pointers in a row.
Lewis can still make a three-pointer. He will go down as one of the league’s best outside-shooting big men, and no one can take that from him. For Lewis and the Heat, the question isn’t with his shooting. It’s whether his knees will allow him to move fast enough to get open.
So far, so good.
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Through Monday, Lewis has participated in every minute of the Heat’s training camp. The only pain in his legs has been soreness in his muscles from the rigors of practice. After two years of constant knee problems, he welcomes the fatigue.
“I was worried how I would feel the next day after a hard workout, and I’ve been going for three days straight and no pain at all,” said Lewis, who is ranked fifth in three-point shooting among active players and eighth all-time.
When Lewis’ knees first began to betray him, he was on a trajectory worthy of future consideration for the Hall of Fame. He left Seattle for Orlando in 2007 as the SuperSonics’ all-time leader in three-pointers. In his first season with the Magic, he made 226 threes in the regular season and averaged 19.5 points per game in the playoffs. The next year, he knocked LeBron James’ Cavaliers out of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference finals before falling to the Lakers in five games.
His one taste of the NBA Finals. That’s what brought him to Miami.
“Mainly the decision was on where I am in my career and what I’ve done in the past,” said Lewis, a two-time All-Star. “I’ve been that main guy. Now I’m at a point where I can win an NBA championship.
“Nobody can play forever, so I’m getting to the point where I’ve got to try my best to win an NBA championship before I do retire, and I think this was the best opportunity for me here.”
Lewis, 33, wants to go out a champion and was willing to sacrifice money for that opportunity. He is signed for the veteran’s minimum for the next two seasons but, like other players with the Heat, he likely could have earned more elsewhere. (Lewis will also earn $13.7 million from the Hornets this season.)
Like the money, Lewis isn’t concerned with playing time either. He could play five minutes a game. He could play 15 minutes a game. He could be a starter. He said it doesn’t matter.
“My worry is just to be healthy this season and come in and help these guys win ball games,” Lewis said. “When you have younger guys like LeBron James or Dwyane Wade that are the stars on the team, you got to sacrifice. If you don’t sacrifice, you might find yourself at home, watching them on TV, or not even in the league.
“So it’s sacrifice time for me.”
Lewis played small forward in Seattle and converted to power forward in Orlando. His versatility intrigued the Heat, and he has been learning both positions to see where he best fits into coach Erik Spoelstra’s “positionless” basketball. If Lewis remains healthy, the lineup possibilities, as James said on media day, would be “scary” for opponents.
For now, however, Lewis is just trying to fit in and prove he’s still quick enough to play defense and move in and out of transition. Spoelstra has been keeping a close eye on Lewis’ lateral movement.
“Is he capable athletically of moving and making the plays that he was able to do two years ago?” Spoelstra said. “He looks healthy. … I think that is a victory right now.
“The rhythm, learning a new system offensively, that will take time. I understand that and I’m not putting pressure on him for that. Anybody that misses extended periods of time, there will be an acclimation to your rhythm.”
Lewis started just 15 games last season in Washington before losing his position to Chris Singleton, a rookie from Florida State. Lewis’ troublesome knees forced him to miss the majority of the season, and he averaged 7.8 points. He has averaged 16.1 points in his career.
Lewis has undergone a pair of procedures to his knees (platelet-rich plasma treatment) in the past two years to stave off tendinitis. The pain completely wrecked his shot in 2011. A career 38.8 percent shooter from distance, he shot 23.9 percent from three-point range last season.
“I’ve been working with the training staff here and then had the procedure done and I feel great,” Lewis said. “I just have to stay on top of the rehab and continue to strengthen my hips and continue to strengthen my legs and not let it come back.”