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Farewell, Leon

 

I really hope Leon Powe knows how much Celtics fans like him and will miss him. We all know why that is–the well-documented childhood difficulties, the never-ending series of knee injuries that seemed to happen right when he was turning a corner, and the way Leon responded to all of it by working even harder. He’s a bit of a cliche fan favorite, actually–the scrappy role player who overcomes personal and professional obstacles to contribute to a championship team. 

But let’s talk about basketball. There was something that drew me to Leon Powe from the moment I saw him play: He’s a bit awkward. There are guys who just look beautiful in the post, whether they are fading along the baseline (Olajuwon), stroking the mid-range jumper (KG), juking guys with shoulder fakes before tossing up a soft jump hook (Duncan) or nailing a high-arcing turnaround J (Dirk). 

Leon is not pretty to watch. You see–almost feel–every bit of effort it takes him to put the ball on the floor, lower his shoulder into a taller defender and flick a one-handed shot toward the rim. He can’t leap much without a head of steam, and he’s not quick or explosive enough to beat his defenders with spin moves or dribble-drives. He was usually shooting right over a defender’s body, and so he never really seemed to have the time or space to aim his shots, unless he was dunking (and, man, were those dunks ferocious). He often pushed off with his left hand to create the minimal space he had. Every time he attacked the rim, I cringed, expecting an offensive foul.

The shots, once released, look a bit like blind tosses toward something approximating the correct area of the rim or the backboard. And they always seem to bounce around the rim and off the backboard before going down.

And they went down 52 percent of the time, and 57 percent of the time in the ’08 championship season. And when the shots weren’t going down, Leon was drawing fouls. He led the Celtics–by far–in free throw attempts per 36 minutes in each of the last two seasons, not an easy feat on a team with Paul Pierce. 

He is a graceless, below-the-rim player for the most part, and I love him for it. Debilitating knee injuries robbed him of his peak athleticism, and so he adjusted, and he became a relentless wrecking ball who did the best with the body he has now. He made himself into and NBA player even after he lost the athleticism that made him an intriguing NBA prospect to begin with.

(Reminisce about Leon’s greatest Celtic moment, and view some YouTube-age, after the jump).

It all came together in Game 2 of the 2008 NBA Finals, which I think will be the Leon memory most of us will hold closest. You all remember the highlights (included in a YouTube compilation below): the two dunks to end the 3rd quarter, the first a fast break posterization of Luke Walton off a feed from the Truth; the coast-to-coast dunk in the early 4th quarter that drove Phil Jackson crazy and served as the ultimate indictment of that Laker team’s toughness. 

But what I like about that game is the fact that Powe’s most important work came in the 2nd quarter, when he scored eight points in a six-minute span that included a game-changing 13-2 Boston run. You know how many field goals Leon made in that stretch? One. His other six points came on free throws, as he used his body and his unconventional game to draw four shooting fouls on LA. Blue-collar Leon at his best at the most important moment.

Powe scored 21 points in the game, and there was no reason to expect such a contribution, because his minutes had been dwindling as the playoffs wore on. Starting with Game 4 of the Cleveland series, Leon barely played. Doc benched him altogether for Game 6 at Cleveland and games 3 and 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Detroit. In between, he played just 1:15 of garbage time in a blowout Game 4 loss.

But Leon stayed ready, and he exploded when his moment game in Game 2. It was great to see.

That sort of thing has actually happened a lot in Leon’s brief career. He didn’t play at all over a seven-game span between Jan. 2 and Jan. 16 of the ’07-08 season, all of them DNP-CDs save for the game he missed for the birth of his son. But then KG suffered an abdominal strain on Jan. 25th, forcing Doc to play Leon extended minutes. 

Powe responded with a career-high (then) 25 points in a January 29th win against Miami (a game Ray Allen also missed), kicking off a stretch of nine games in which Leon averaged 13 points per and hit double-figures seven times.

This year? His minutes fell in January, when Doc played him fewer than 10 minutes in three straight games for the first time all season. When the minutes jumped up again, his production wasn’t there–until KG hurt his knee on Feb. 19 at Utah. Over the next 11 games, Leon averaged nearly 14 points per game. 

Then what happened? He collided knee-to-knee with Ben Gordon on March 17, and missed all but the last two games of the regular season. Another good streak, interrupted. 

He came back for the playoffs and did exactly what he was supposed to do in Game 1 against Chicago: Eight points and eight rebounds in 16 super-efficient minutes. He could score against Chicago’s front court. 

Then Game 2, and another knee injury, this time a torn ACL. A playoff run in a free agent year, interrupted. 

Leon will fight back from this, like he has from every other injury he has suffered. He just won’t be doing it with the Celtics. But I hope he knows that Celtics fans will be watching him, and rooting for him, wherever he goes. A piece of the 2008 title will always belong to Leon.

  • John

    Good Luck leon. Try back with the Celts later on……

  • http://www.gmail.com Greg

    Dont forget about the home game against the cavs this year when KG was out and he carried the celtics on his back.

    What a guy he will be missed

  • Eugene

    I watch that Youtube clip probably once every couple of weeks. Vintage Powe. He will be missed. I still hope there is a chance we bring him back. You never know with Danny…………

  • T

    Its apparent that Leon is not our first option for resigning, but is it really worth losing him to resign 'sheed to the mid level exception? With the uncertainty of KGs return to his former self, can we afford to have 'sheed and then big baby as the only other serviceable big guy off the bench?

    Antonio McDyess is out there too, and yes he wont be as good as 'sheed, but he is still a very productive player who will sign for less than the full mid-level exception. Sign McDyesss for 3mil a year, then sign Powe to a 1mil-1.2mil a year for a year or two. This would give us two players for less than the mid level exception that are both productive and give us some depth up front. This would also give us some spending flexibility to use the early bird rights on Big Baby or possible go get another swingman or backup PG.

  • Glen

    Whoever said Leon was leaving? No other team will want to sign an injured player, so I'm sure the Celtics will resign him to something low cost and wait on the rehab.

  • Jeff

    The celtics should sign Powe and Sheed. Forget signing BIG BABY he's gone forget about him he will be getting a nice contract wherever he goes. Powe is scrappy and I'm sure he wants to stay with the Celtics as much as we want him. Watch that clip and remember the Cavs game that someone already mentioned. And you will see we should sign him. And for Sheed sign him Boston has been great for turning bad players around. Pats-Cory Dillon, Randy Moss. Celtics- Maurbury. HEre are a few this is why we should sign both height, they are physical, and they both perform great in the playoffs!

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  • Brady

    You think Dirk is pretty to watch in the post???

  • John (Lakersland rea

    LOL. You guys rather have Glenn Krispy Kreme Davis over Leon Powe? Either Danny Ainge knows something about Powe's knees that nobody else knows, or he really really really is the worst GM since anyone other than a Clippers' GM.

    ARE YOU F-ING SERIOUS? You think a 6'5" 429lbs. Davis makes a better backup forward than 6'8" in-shape bruiser PF Powe?

    As a Lakers fan, I saw Powe shred the Lakers last year. I also saw Glen Davis eat a cheesecake while KG was taking a freethrow. I swear. Youtube it.

    Unless Powe's knee is completely messed up, Ainge is proving that even when he does something right (drafting a bargain Powe in the 2nd round), he'll screw it up (not re-signing Powe in a down market).

    Hilariously unbelievable

  • Jeff C.

    We don't need Big baby's shot taking. We need inside presence from our bench, someone who is POWE-rful! We have to keep Powe. if it came down to Big Baby and Leon, I take Leon. Come on Danny, make the right decision. I want to laugh more when Powe posterizes the Lakers again. We have shooters already, we need size (and heigth) dow low

  • Jose L.

    I say keep Powe…celts going after Wallace…another outside presence with subpar inside game…with 12 spots on the roster, can't believe the celts would rather keep scarabini or whoever else over Powe…along with perkins, he is the only true inside player the celts have…and yes i am a fan of the celts and Powe…show some class and resign him…the fans after all are the ones that pay the salary…

  • http://AngryIrish.com Lefty

    First of all I LOVE POWE. But lets be honest he want even be back to start the year and an ACL in basketball is a full year to a year in a half injury to be back where you were before the injury (see Tony Allen). I don't think Big Baby is better than Powe but I think you can re-sign Leon for cheaper. I don't see anyone offering anything to Powe. I think we could sign 'Sheed to the MLE. Match what Big Baby gets from somewhere else and offer a minimum contract to Powe. Then we would have Garnett, Perkins, Wallace, Big Baby and Leon (o yeah and Scal too). I think a lot of you are unrealistic about Powe being someone you want to sign for more than you have to. This is like the guys 30 millionth knee injury – get him for as cheap as possible.

  • jose L

    I think he only made 770k…that is cheap…offering him 1 mil with incentives for games played will assure the celts of his services in the second half of the season and in the future…it is a small investment that should pay off…when you consider that sheed is being offered somewhere around 6-7 mil, garnett will pull in 16.4 and pierce and allen more, 1 mil is peanuts…look, I will buy whatever products are being hawked during commercials if it will help…oh yeah keep big baby too…

  • http://leonpowe.org The Show

    Great post. I'll be linking this over to leonpowe.org

  • http://khandorssportsblog.com/wordpress khandor

    Whithout question, Leon is one of my favourite players in the game today.

    I respect the way in which he chooses to conduct himself each and every day.

    Mr. Powe can play on my team, in the NBA, at any time.

    He is a Winner.

  • Guru Meditation

    Karma is a bitch! It's pay back because he dared to steal the Lakers championship last year.

    Haha, yes I am a troll of the worst kind.

  • Definitely Sad…

    I really wish the C's could re-sign Powe. We should start a fund to help pay the luxury tax!

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  • nicktheceltsfan

    Leon, you will be missed, there was no one in my 20 plus years of watching celtic ball that made me more excited to see come off the bench. This guy is a warrior in every sense. Good luck Leon , you’ll do just fine, but you already know that.

  • Pingback: Powe to Cavs? It’s Almost a Done Deal » Boston Celtics Basketball – Celtics news, rumors and analysis – CelticsHub.com

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  • jeremy hitchcock

    worst . celtics needed him a great low post option and great rebound rate . it was mistake not bringing him back this will have a bigger impact than alot of people think

    rasheed will not bring that energy and and rebounding either will big baby

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