Rashard Lewis drives to the basket against the Suns. (John McDonnell/THE WASHINGTON…)
Jordan Crawford soared from the baseline to throw down a tomahawk dunk, made a wide-open three-pointer, nodded as he whirled around to celebrate and later dropped a bounce-pass alley-oop for John Wall to tap in. Rashard Lewis took a defender off the dribble for a driving layup and cut to the basket to catch a no-look tip pass from Wall for a two-handed dunk.
Crawford and Lewis were back at Verizon Center on Wednesday, wearing new, navy blue Washington Wizards T-shirts, for the first time since last season ended.
They engaged in a spirited pickup game that Crawford hopes will resemble the norm this season and one Lewis thought would be unfeasible once the lockout came close to a resolution nearly two weeks ago.
Crawford doesn’t know what his role will be with the Wizards this season, with a starting job at shooting guard likely hinging on whether the team is able retain restricted free agent and last year’s leading scorer, Nick Young. While Crawford would like to see Young return, that doesn’t change his desire to share the back court with Wall. “I’m going to compete for the starting spot. Believe that,” Crawford said. “If Nick comes back, which I hope he do, because we need him, I’m excited.”
Lewis has a more defined role with the Wizards but until his representatives received assurances last week, he had every reason to believe that he was a goner.
Lewis couldn’t read a newspaper or go on the Internet without finding some speculative report about the Wizards shedding his contract with a new amnesty provision in the collective bargaining agreement to waive a player and have their wages removed the salary cap. Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld later announced that the team had no intention of using the provision.
“I most definitely thought the amnesty clause would happen,” said Lewis, who is scheduled to earn $46 million — $32 million guaranteed — over the next two seasons. “My main focus was, if it did happen, hopefully, I would get picked up. My thing was, I have to be ready to play, regardless of where I was playing. But they told me I would be here as a Washington Wizard and my main focus is to get this team in the playoffs and I think we have the young talent to do it.”
Lewis has been working out in Houston for much of the offseason, preparing for a return to playing small forward again after being used mostly as a jump-shooting power forward the past few years in Orlando. He is moving around better and more fluidly after having platelet-rich plasma treatment to repair tendinitis in his right knee. He said his knee is about “90 percent.”
“You can tell that he’s healthy, that he really wants to play, that he wants to come back and not just be here, but contribute,” said Crawford, who rarely played with Lewis after arriving in a trade-deadline deal from Atlanta but hung out with him in September when several members of the team participated in the so-called lockout league in Las Vegas.
Crawford also expects to have a huge role with the Wizards. The supremely confident, 6-foot-3 second-year guard once stated that his career goal is to be better than Michael Jordan, and will likely spend time playing alongside Wall and spelling him as a backup point guard. “I’m comfortable just contributing on the team. As long as I’m a major influence on this team, I’m just trying to help it,” said Crawford, who averaged 19.3 points in 18 starts last season.
Crawford developed chemistry with Wall near the end of the season and over the summer, as they worked out together with Young in Reseda, Calif. But Crawford avoided attacking charity exhibitions and the summer league circuit, focusing instead on improving his individual skills and playing pickup games against other pros. “I just laid low, worked on my defense, getting stronger so I won’t have little injuries like I did last year, try to be as healthy as I can,” Crawford said.
With a 66-game schedule that will feature 16 back-to-back games, the Wizards will have to be in great shape. Lewis, 32, was a rookie during the 50-game season in 1998-99 and knows the challenges.
“One thing I remember about the last lockout is a lot of games in a short period of time, not very much practice time,” Lewis said. “So I think this year will be more mental. We’ve got to save our legs for the game.”
And, after hearing all summer that he should be dumped, Lewis said he has extra motivation to rebound from a difficult initial stint with the Wizards in which he averaged just 11.4 points in 32 games. “No doubt. The fire was already burning. All that did was just put a little more gas on it. I got to keep that fire burning to go out there and play basketball.”