Given Chance, Leon Shows Potential
BOSTON - A good half-hour after Wednesday's 94-90 win over the New Jersey Nets, Leon Powe sat in a chair in the middle of the Celtics locker room with his uniform still on, chit-chatting it up with reporters.
It was surprising to hear Powe so loquacious, because he really hasn't had much to talk about to the media during training camp. That certainly didn't stop him from "writing home" and keeping in touch with his family, but he did that mostly for support, because doubt was starting to creep into his head. Would he ever get a chance?
Powe had some moments in Las Vegas, but he's still fighting for a roster spot during training camp.
Despite playing well in the Toshiba Vegas Summer League, Powe has struggled at times during training camp to get his shots off in the paint, and he hadn't seen the court during the preseason since a brief four-minute stint in the first exhibition game in Cleveland. And that outing, in which he grabbed one offensive rebound, committed one turnover and a foul, wasn't exactly the indelible impression a rookie hopes to make in his first professional game.
With 18 players still in camp and talk of roster cuts this Friday swirling, Powe was seemingly running out of opportunities to audition for a roster spot.
To his credit, on Wednesday night he talked like a man who hadn't even considered the possibility of not making the team. Thankfully, Wednesday night, Coach Doc Rivers had finally called his name again, and Powe responded with an impressive double-double in just under 29 minutes. He scored 11 points mostly on hard work and hustle, and you can't grab 15 rebounds, including five offensive boards, without "getting your nose dirty" as Rivers would say afterward.
"I was really happy for him. He plays hard," Rivers said. "We needed a guy in the first half to just come in and play hard and play physical and be a man."
Powe's waited patiently for his opportunity to log some major minutes in an exhibition game. He said it was tough at times to keep his head in the game while sitting at the end of a very long bench, and caught himself "zoning out" once or twice before quickly snapping back out of it. He wanted to be sure that when his name was called, he'd be ready for his moment, however long it may be.
"Yeah, you know at first it was tough," Powe said. "I talked to my family, my coach, my high school coach and my college coach. It's all about timing and keeping your head in the game, and you just got to stay focused and be ready."
Rivers concern in the past was that while Powe always plays tough, he seemed to be having difficulty learning his role in the Celtics' system. A go-to guy in college, Powe's role is drastically reduced as a rookie on a team with plenty of bigs in camp. And while no one doubts that he can score and rebound when called upon - Powe was a 20-10 guy in his senior year at Cal - there was some question if he'd ever get the chance to show his skills in a game situation because he hadn't shown mastery of the playbook in practice.
"That's where he's really struggled, just getting the system, the stuff down," said Rivers, who noted that Powe was in the right place at the right time and executed plays properly in several situations. "[Tonight] he did a great job."
Powe also showed that he can execute when the game is on the line. He played the last 19 minutes of the game as the C's erased a 21-point deficit against New Jersey's reserves; the C's trailed 65-44 when Powe entered the game with 7:18 left in the third.
The only question is, will he get another shot to prove his worth, and if not, was Wednesday's effort enough to earn him a job past October?