First, I must confess that I've had a man crush on Powe since the Nuggets "drafted" him 49th overall in 2006. Even then I was aware of Powe's remarkable and inspirational back story: his father's departure when he was an infant, his years spent as a homeless child in Oakland, how he looked after his siblings after the state of California took them away from his mother and placed them in foster care, the great mentor his high school coach was, his mother's death before he played in the state championship, his outstanding play at the University of California and, of course, overcoming multiple knee surgeries to get himself ready for the NBA Draft. You can't put a price on character guys like Leon Powe and when his name was announced as a Nuggets selection, I thought we had our Kenyon Martin/Nene insurance for years to come.
But it wasn't meant to be.
I put "drafted" above in quotes because just as I was calling my fellow Nuggets fan friends to express my elation over the drafting of Powe, the 6'8", 240 lb power forward was already being sent to Boston for a 2007 second round pick (which became Aaron Gray when the Nuggets traded that pick plus another second rounder for J.R. Smith in what became the fifth best trade in Nuggets history). And as a Celtic, Powe thrived. He was an integral member of the Celtics bench when they won the 2008 NBA Championship and he filled in admirably for the injured Kevin Garnett this past season, averaging 15.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game over the final 10 games of the season. And then, two games in the 2009 playoffs against the Bulls, tragedy struck Powe again when he tore the ACL and meniscus (something I unfortunately can relate to) in his left knee. This will be Powe's third surgery on his left knee.
With Powe's third major surgery on his left knee looming, the Celtics - being penny-wise but very pound foolish - opted not to tender Powe a qualifying offer, making a Powe an unrestricted free agent. (To be fair to the Celtics, this was a gut wrenching decision but it still doesn't let them off the hook for making the wrong decision.) When the news broke, I advocated for the Nuggets to pick up Powe figuring he'd come cheap and, again, would provide the Nuggets with that long term K-Mart/Nene insurance the team badly needs. But I had no idea Powe would come as cheap as the Cavaliers got him for: $1.77 million over two years with the second a team option. Are you kidding me?! Does this mean the Nuggets could have had Powe for essentially the same amount that they'll pay roster slots 12 and 13 - i.e. they could have tested his health and ability as a possible K-Mart replacement in 2011-12 at virtually no risk?
But Powe won't be available until February or March, you might argue. To which I will counter: so what? Would you rather take your chances with 25 year old Leon Powe's knees for a $24,000 per game rate (assuming he appears in about 35 games next season) or 31 year old Kenyon Martin's knees for a price tag of $214,000 per game (assuming he appears in about 72 games in 2009-10). Cleveland's gain is everybody else in the NBA's loss, including Denver's.
More than anyone, I understand that the NBA is a "win now" / "what have you done for me lately?" business. But for less than $2 million for two seasons with the second season not guaranteed, how were the Nuggets and 28 other NBA franchises not lining up to sign Leon Powe? Either Powe was dead set on playing for the Cavaliers or 28 NBA franchises - including ours - just got caught napping.
This could be the most underrated signing of the summer.
(Photo courtesy of Elise Amendola, AP)