INDEPENDENCE — Leon Powe has battled back from two previous surgeries on his left knee, so he sees no reason why he can’t come back from a third.
“I ain’t going to lie,” the new Cavaliers power forward said Thursday during a conference call with the Cleveland media. “I ain’t going to tell nobody you want to go through knee surgeries.
“But I know what it takes. I work hard. I’ve been through it. I know how hard I’ve worked and I know how hard I’m going to work.”
The 6-foot-8, 240-pound Powe, who will earn the league minimum of $855,000 in 2009-10, with the Cavaliers holding a team option for 2010-11 that would bring the total value of his deal to almost $1.8 million, is currently working out five days a week in Los Angeles.
The 25-year-old said he’s gotten all his range of motion back after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus and is now working on strengthening his quadriceps. He plans to come to Cleveland in a few weeks to continue his rehabilitation, with the goal of doing light jogging and some shooting in 1½ months.
Powe’s long-range goal is to return to action soon after the NBA All-Star break in February.
“If I wasn’t hurt, I probably would have a little bit more money, but I’m just happy the Cavaliers took a chance on me,” the former Boston Celtic said. “Any money in the NBA is more than I can imagine anybody making in a regular job.
“Money is not the issue with me. The issue is I want to get my knee back healthy and go out and play basketball. The money is going to come.”
Powe, who will be entering his fourth NBA season, thought the money was going to come from the Celtics, but they declined to give him a qualifying offer after he hurt his knee in a first-round playoff game against Chicago, making him a free agent.
“When I first hurt my knee, it was real stressful for me and my family,” he said. “It would be for everybody, especially when you’re in the playoffs and in a contract year.
“We were down, but we were not out. We thought Boston would do a little qualifying offer. When we didn’t get that, we were kind of worried.”
Powe got more worried when agent Aaron Goodwin didn’t get any calls from teams during the first three weeks of the free agent signing period, but he eventually heard from the Cavaliers, the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers and a number of other clubs.
“I’m the type of person who puts God first,” Powe said. “I said, ‘I think everything is going to be all right.’ I just had to wait it out.”
Powe, who had surgery on the same knee after his junior season in high school and during his sophomore year at the University of California, chose the Cavaliers because they were his most persistent suitor, but in the back of his mind he also realized Cleveland could very well meet Boston in the 2010 playoffs.
“I’m a loyal type of person,” he said. “I know (the Celtics) told me it’s a business. I know it’s a business, but I thought they were at least going to give me that (qualifying) offer to see if I made it back on my feet.
“I’m a hard worker. I’ve always got a chip on my shoulder, regardless of what happened in the past. I want to get back. I want to prove something to everybody.”
The opportunity to play alongside LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal made Powe’s decision to sign with the Cavaliers fairly easy, especially since Powe and James were in the same high school class and played with and against each other in numerous summer camps as prep stars.
“In my first game with LeBron, I was like, ‘This dude is pretty good,’” Powe said. “The second game I was like, ‘He’s really good.’ I asked my coach if he was in my (graduating) class and he said yes. I’m like, ‘There goes my No. 1 spot.' "
Powe has particularly vivid memories of an ABCD camp game when he and James were on the same team and about to go against New York City phenom Lenny Cook, who was a year ahead of them in school and billed as the No. 1 prep player in the nation.
The New York media kept grilling James about how he was going to stop Cook, and Powe remembers James simply telling reporters they’d have to wait for the game and see for themselves.
“I kid you not, LeBron had 24 points before that man scored two points,” Powe said. “All (Cook’s) New York friends were there, all upset. That’s how I knew that man right there was something special. Plus, I threw in my little 24, 25 points, a few boards and held my man to four points.”
Powe averaged 7.7 points and 4.9 rebounds in 18 minutes a game for Boston last season. He also had 21 points in Game 2 of the 2008 NBA Finals against the Lakers.
Asked to describe his game and what he could bring to the Cavaliers when healthy, Powe said, “I get to the free throw line, I rebound the basketball with the best of them and I play real good defense. I can score down on the blocks, too. I’ve got no fear of going out there when the lights are on, when the pressure is on.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.