The Show Must Go On

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Last season, Leon Powe was a luxury item for the Cavaliers. He was gravy.

If the rugged forward from Cal was able to play and contribute – that was a bonus. If not, Cleveland already boasted an experienced, star-studded frontline. And even after returning from months of rehab, Powe was essentially an insurance policy heading into the postseason.

In the understatement of the year: This season is different.

The Cavaliers young frontline will likely need all the toughness, experience and muscle that it can get. Leon Powe has all that.

The 2009-10 season was one of frustration for the player who once led the Pac-10 in scoring and rebounding. Last year, Powe spent his first 57 games as a Cavalier rehabbing a left knee he blew out the previous spring with the Celtics.

When Powe finally returned, he had good spurts of productivity – appearing in 20 games and starting two. He dropped 16 points on Detroit just nine games after being activated and grabbed eight boards in 18 minutes in a win over Chicago. But through it all, he was obviously dragging an injured wheel.

“Last year, I was maybe like 50 or 60 percent,” admitted Powe. “But I put in a lot of work this summer just to get (the knee) where it is now – conditioning it and strengthening it every day. I went through as many obstacles as possible so I can put stress on it, so my leg will know what’s to come during the season.”

But with the Wine and Gold’s proposed new up-and-down style, Powe’s knee may actually have no idea what’s to come this season. It’s been a productive, but tough Training Camp for the fifth-year pro. And despite the incessant running, he’s a big fan of the new coaching staff. (“They’re fun guys who love to work, just like me,” said Powe.)

And for first-year coach, Byron Scott, the feeling is completely mutual.

“I love Leon as a guy – he’s a guy that’s always upbeat every morning,” smiled Scott. “He told me (on Tuesday): ‘Coach, you know we got a game tonight.’ I said, ‘Yeah, Leon, I do know that.’ So, I love seeing him every day.”

But Byron Scott knows Powe’s more than a smiling face at the practice court. “He’s a warrior. I love his attitude, I love the way he competes every single day. And even without two great legs right now, he’s out there on the floor and he gives you something positive. I’m anxious to see him out there. Love his attitude. Love his work ethic.”

Powe didn’t appear in the Cavaliers exhibition opener on Tuesday night. Byron Scott will likely give him a substantial run on Thursday against the Wizards.

There isn’t an official minutes-restriction on Powe now, but Scott and the Cavaliers medical staff will keep a close eye on him.

“I still want to watch him,” said Scott. “(Cavaliers trainer) Max (Benton) kind of related to me as well that we still want to be cautious with him right now. I mean, he’s come a long way in a short period of time, but we don’t want any setbacks right now. So we want to keep working him gradually and get him up to speed by the start of the season.”

“I’m feeling good,” added Powe. “I just do the proper things to take care of my body after practice, and I feel good the next day. I worked on (the knee) all summer. I did a lot of running to get my body ready to play and get myself into shape.”

Besides his skill and toughness, the man once known as “The Show” is also one of the young Cavalier frontline’s senior members. At just 26, he and Anderson Varejao are two of the deans. And this season, their knowledge might be almost as valuable as their points and rebounds.

“I just have to show some of the young guys the ropes and tell them the proper way to play defense and make sure they’re in the proper place for help,” said Powe. “It’s all about defensive positioning – and so much of it is fighting before (an opponent) gets the ball. You have to do your work early. And I want to make sure that everyone on our frontline knows that. We can’t afford to let somebody catch the ball deep and go to work.”

A healthy Powe would be a huge lift for the Wine and Gold as they transition into a new era. It seems like a long time ago that Powe dropped 21 points in 15 minutes against the Lakers in the 2008 Finals. Powe is also the guy who mauled the Cavaliers the following season, shooting .714 from the floor in three games against Cleveland.

“I’m just getting my mojo back, but it’s all starting to come back to me,” smiled the former AAU legend from Oakland. “I’m going to get a few games under my belt this preseason, and I think I’m going to feel good this year.”


Joe Gabriele is the official beat writer for the Cleveland Cavaliers on Cavs.com. You can follow Joe and send him your questions on Twitter at @CavsJoeG.