Leon Powe wanted to play another season with LeBron James, but unlike the fans in Cleveland, the former Cal star wasn't angry that the NBA's biggest free-agent prize bolted the Cavaliers for Miami.
"He said he didn't have an idea of where he wanted to go until he woke up," Powe said of James' decision last Thursday to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in South Beach. "Some people believe him, some people don't. I can't fault anybody for making a business decision, a family decision. I know him a little bit, too."
Powe played alongside James with the Oakland Soldiers traveling team for portions of two summers while in high school.
The two were reunited in Cleveland last season, with Powe seeing action in 20 late-season games after recovering from a knee injury suffered while playing with the Boston Celtics during the 2009 playoffs.
"As a teammate, I wanted him to stay," the 26-year-old Oakland Tech High graduate said.
So did Cavaliers fans and team owner Daniel Gilbert, who felt betrayed by their star player and Akron native.
"The city of Cleveland, they raised him, watched him play for a number of years," Powe said. "I heard all the comments. I can understand why they're upset."
By the time James and the Heat visit Cleveland next season, Powe expects fans will have gained some perspective. "He's going to hear some boos probably, but he'll get some cheers, too," Powe said. "He gave them a lot. He brought a lot of business to the city. He just felt it was time to go."
For many in Cleveland, the issue wasn't simply that James left, but that he announced the departure in a one-hour special on ESPN. Even NBA commissioner David Stern suggested the idea was ill-conceived.
"I'm pretty sure he didn't want it to come out like that where it looked like he was rubbing it in their faces," Powe said.
No one has sold that notion to Gilbert, whose remarks in an open letter to fans were so caustic that Stern fined him $100,000.
"I haven't been here that long, but they've got a different relationship. It probably was a good one until he left," Powe said. "The owner wanted him. He was a little bit emotional."
Set to begin his fifth NBA season, Powe is eager to help fill some of the void left by James. Powe and his family are living in Pleasanton this summer while he works out at Cal, and he said his knee is 100 percent.
Powe averaged 4.0 points and 3.1 rebounds last season. The Cavs put a 20-minutes-per-game limit on him after he returned.
"This time I ain't going to have no limits. I can get a training camp, too, so I can get a rhythm with the team," he said. "I know for myself I'm going to go out there and try to make some things happen, probably be a little bit more aggressive than usual, and I'm an aggressive player."
Powe said even without James, the Cavaliers can be a playoff team in 2010-11.
"Just because he's gone, doesn't mean our agenda stops," Powe said. "We are competitive guys and we ain't just going to lay down."