Even while recovering from reconstructive surgery on his left knee, Leon Powe expected to be back next season with the Boston Celtics.
The Celtics had other ideas.
The 25-year-old former Oakland Tech High and Cal star was allowed to become a free agent on Wednesday, signaling the end of a three-year association with the Celtics, during which he helped bring Boston the 2008 NBA championship.
Powe said general manager Danny Ainge called him Monday with the news that he would not be offered a contract.
"First he said it was money issues ... then he said I'm going to take up a roster spot and that he's not and the owner's not willing to wait," Powe said. "He said they've got a two-year window to win the championship and they wanted someone who could play right away."
That window is impacted by the Celtics' core trio of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, all of whom will be at least 32 by the start of the 2009-10 season.
Former Hayward High star Eddie House, a reserve guard and 3-point specialist for the Celtics, decided to fulfill the final year of his contract for $2.86 million rather than exercise his option to become a free agent.
Powe, who underwent surgery May 5 after injuring his knee in an April 24 playoff game against Chicago, said his doctor told him his recovery is ahead of schedule and that he could play by February.
That timetable didn't convince the Celtics.
"They gave me a lot of reasons why. It's not like I'm asking for $30 million a year. That would be hard," Powe said. "Just give me something for one year, just to show y'all that I'm going to work hard and when I come back I'm going to be right."
The 6-foot-8 power forward earned just under $800,000 last season, when he averaged 7.7 points and 4.9 rebounds in 17.5 minutes per game. During one four-game stretch in March, given additional minutes after Garnett was injured, Powe averaged 21.3 points, including a 30-point effort vs. Memphis.
Powe, who overcame major surgeries on the same knee both in high school and college, was disappointed the Celtics didn't have faith in his ability to battle back.
"I thought, 'I've been with the team, they know me, they know I'm a hard worker. I've done everything I've been asked. I was playing hurt when I did it,'"" he said, referring to the anterior cruciate ligament injury.
"They told me I need to go find another team. I didn't think they'd do anything like that."
Powe said he had talked a couple weeks ago with Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who told him he wanted him back. After his conversation with Ainge, he's not sure what to think about that.
"You always want to be somewhere you're appreciated. At that time I didn't feel appreciated," he said.
The Boston fans certainly value Powe, who is a crowd favorite. Powe said leaving those folks is his biggest regret.
"They love me over there," he said. "I know when they get the news, they're going to be devastated. I just want them to know it wasn't my choice. I was expecting to be back. I've had a very good experience (in Boston), until two days ago."
Powe said his agent, Aaron Goodwin, already had heard from three interested teams — Miami, Orlando and Memphis — by Wednesday afternoon. Powe has moved his family to Los Angeles to be closer to the woman in charge of his rehab program.
"I got a lot of motivation right now," he said. "I love the work, it's just a challenge for me. I've been down this road. It's nothing new.
"I ain't got no doubts. I know as soon as I get back on the court I'm going to be ready to play and play good."
Contact Jeff Faraudo at firstname.lastname@example.org.