As fans and analysts around New England continue to look back at the free-agent frenzy that was, we just keep learning more about the market for former Celtic Leon Powe, who is now bound to take the court as a Cleveland Cavalier this upcoming season.
This weekend, we learned that the Celtics weren't so far removed from those negotiations after all.
A lot of the Celtics' main rivals were after Powe this summer, and that's part of why the Celtics were too. The Cavs wanted him, and the Lakers did too — especially if things hadn't worked out with Lamar Odom. Later on, a couple of fringe top-tier NBA teams — Portland, Miami and Dallas — jumped in too.
When Powe ultimately ended up in Cleveland, everyone back East just assumed it was because he got a juicier contract offer there. Maybe that's not the case.
The Boston Herald's Mark Murphy reported Friday that Celtics exec Danny Ainge "raised the possibility of signing Powe to a veteran’s minimum two-year contract with a team option in the second year — the very deal Powe just signed with Cleveland — but that the forward rejected the idea."
"Though we didn’t extend him the qualifying offer, we did talk to him about coming back," Ainge said. "I told Leon from the beginning that what happened is what I thought would happen — that he’d get a two-year contract with a team option."
It makes sense. Powe might have wanted a one-year deal — it would have meant he got one season to prove himself before jumping into that 2010 free-agent frenzy for more recognition and more money. Shrewd business move. But no NBA team was willing to offer Powe a one-year deal, because the status of his knee is still a huge question mark. Everyone loves Powe's heart and his dedication, but paying a guy for a year when he's hurt for half of it is just bad business. Every team that wanted Powe wanted more commitment from a healthy Powe. That means he stays through 2011, and every team agreed on that.
It wasn't about money, either. Clearly. In Cleveland, Powe has a two-year, $1.77 million deal — his yearly salary of $855,189 is the NBA's minimum for players with three years of service.
So Powe didn't leave Boston for the years, and he didn't do it for the money. He must have left because he'd be happier in Cleveland. And that's a sad notion that leaves a lot of people in Boston scratching their heads. What could have gone wrong? How could he leave?
Maybe it's too late to analyze the Powe situation now. He's not coming back, and that's that. But if you must know, I think it might have had something to do with loyalty.
The Celtics weren't showing it. If the Celtics had wanted to keep Powe from the beginning, they should have made that clear much earlier.
When he first hit restricted free agency, the C's didn't make Powe a qualifying offer. And that's fine. From a business standpoint, that was the right move. But that's a complicated message to send to a member of the C's family, and the Celtics should have been honest from the start about their reasoning.
They should have sat down with Powe on July 1 and explained exactly how they felt.
"Look, Leon. We like you. We like you a lot, but we're strapped for cash, and we only want to pay for healthy, able bodies. We want you back, but only if you can promise us lots of healthy minutes — not just now, but next season, too. We really hope you can do that for us, because we'd absolutely love to have you back."
How hard would that have been?
NBA free agency is always a zoo. Players are constantly coming and going — going for more money, going for more fame, going for more minutes. But in Powe's case, he might have just been going for more love and respect. And the Celtics had plenty of love and respect for Leon Powe — it's a shame they couldn't show it when it mattered most.
Powe has always claimed to love Boston. He loves the city, he loves the fans, he loves his old teammates. Bringing him back would have been best for everyone involved. It's a shame this didn't work out.
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