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Powe The Show
It was the spring of 2008, and the Celtics were on their way to winning the city of Boston roughly its 490th pro sports title of the decade. It was during the playoffs that year that Leon Powe emerged as a player, helping knock off the Cavaliers in the second round, and scoring 21 points in Game 2 of the NBA Finals that year. Now he;s one of us. Powe comes with some risks, there's no question about that. But Erik Cassano is fired up that he's now a member of the Cavs.
I probably sat up and took notice of newest Cavalier Leon
at about the same time as everybody else. But maybe not in quite the same way.
It was the spring of 2008, and the Celtics were on their way to winning the city of Boston roughly its 490
pro sports title of the decade. As much as those of us in Cleveland hated to admit it, the Celtics had all the championship ingredients: A dogged defensive mentality, star-power leadership from Kevin
, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, a breakout young star in
Rondo, and a deep bench led by James
and Eddie House.
Even so, the Celtics needed a bit more to win it all. They survived seven-game scares against the Hawks and
in the first two rounds of the playoffs before dispatching the Pistons and
for the right to hoist the franchise's 17
On the fringe, creeping ever-closer to the center of the spotlight, was this kid with bum knees and the heart of a lion. Everyone will remember Leon
21-point performance in Game 2 of the NBA Finals that year as his coming-out party. But from the perspective of a
fan, as my team did a good deal of bumping and grinding with Boston that season,
presence was announced more like the rising Sun than a bolt of lightning.
By the time the
squared off with the Celtics in the second round of the '08 playoffs, the equation seemed to come together. The name, the face, the green jersey with the number "0" planted squarely in the middle of the back. That one player that every team needs to have step up in the biggest games of the season, that one unsung hero that wasn't in the equation at the start of the journey, Boston had found him. The Celtics simply would not have won the NBA title without the contributions of
That could have been it. A lot of players catch their 15 minutes of fame and fade into obscurity. Some even get lucrative contracts before regressing to the mean. But
kept popping into the headlines and highlight reels. When
seriously injured his knee last winter,
stepped up, helping to salvage a 62-win season and the second seed in the East for the Celtics. Along the way, he burned the
for 20 points and 11 rebounds in an early March game.
kept playing the role of extra-strength bandage until a late-season knee bruise was followed by a torn
-- his third -- and
surgery during the playoffs. That's been the trend of
career. In a lot of ways, it's probably been the trend of his life.
The details of
early life, outlined in this
East Bay Express article
from 2003, read like the first half of a movie script: Growing up impoverished in Oakland, single mother, many siblings, had to skip school to change diapers, house burned down, family forced to live in a car, mother eventually arrested and served prison time on theft and welfare fraud charges.
There were a million ways
could have gone down a wrong path in life, could have ended up in and out of the penal system or worse, but his was one of a few scattered hoop dreams that came true --
found a mentor in former Contra Costa College player Bernard Ward, himself trying to right his life after drug-related run-ins with the law.
set the ball rolling toward high school stardom, which led to a spot on a star-studded
squad that included
James, which in turn helped pave the way for
to earn a scholarship to Cal-Berkeley.
attains college stardom, goes to the NBA, makes millions and wins a championship, right? It could have been, because
had ascended from obscurity to certified prep blue-chipper by the time his senior year of high school rolled was within view. But while playing
ball during the spring between his junior and senior years, he tore his
. It would become a recurring problem. He clawed back, played his senior year and made it to Cal. Then he tore his
again in college, downgrading him from NBA lottery pick to second-round project.
The Nuggets drafted him in the second round in 2006 and traded his rights to Boston, where he became something of an afterthought until the Celtics traded for
and Allen in the summer of 2007, launching the Celtics back onto the national stage and giving
the chance to play a role on a contending team.
He seized the moment, playing with as much intensity and ferocity as his body would allow. At 6'-8", he played taller than his height, blocking shots and crushing dunks. He looked like a core member of the Celtics moving forward.
From Cleveland, all I could do is wish we could get our hands on a player like that. In fact, when I first became honestly conscious of
, that was one of the first thoughts that entered my head. The
needed a Leon
, someone with an intangible fearlessness and physical presence, someone alongside LeBron with a reputation for rising to the occasion in big games. The need became more pronounced as the
wilted against Orlando in the Eastern Conference Finals this spring.
As the chain of events would have it, that's exactly what happened. The
found a player like
. Exactly like
, in fact.
underwent a combination of
surgery on his left knee this May, Celtics management scaled the love way back.
went from important role player to injury case with a cloudy future.
told The Plain Dealer
that he was at least looking for a one-year deal from Boston, but GM Danny
wouldn't even commit to that degree. In July, the Celtics declined to give
a qualifying offer, making him an unrestricted free agent.
The Celtics might have been banking that interest in
would be minimal, and that they might be able to re-sign him at a later date if his rehab went well. But for all intents and purposes, the bridge between
and the Celtics was burned at that moment.
The Celtics, through inaction-by-design, opened the door, and Danny Ferry walked in. The
throughout July and August, and despite overtures from other contenders,
signed a two-year deal with the
-- with the second year being a team option.
was well-liked in Boston, and a lot of Celtics fans seem to think
was given a raw deal, loved then left by team management. Of course, other Boston fans seem to think they'll
get along just fine
after having substituted
and banking on his return to 2008-09 form is a risk on the part of the
, no doubt.
knees are ravaged at this point, and he's only 25. Even if
does come back
, he is still an undersized power forward who will need to fit into the
' system somehow.
thrived playing alongside defensive-minded center Kendrick Perkins in Boston. The
' version of Perkins is
, but his game is a little different, and he takes up a lot more space in the paint.
These are the wrinkles that will need to be ironed out. For now, the
are taking a minimal-risk chance on a player who deserves such a chance.
It may be months before we get a chance to see
in the wine and gold, but I'm honestly thrilled that
is coming to Cleveland. It's not just what he might bring to the table for the stretch run. It's that I'll get a chance to root for a player that I've been wanting to root for.
Aug 14, 2009 7:00 PM
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