There were a half-dozen playoff caliber teams willing to sign Leon Powe and wait for his surgically reconstructed left knee to heal, but the forward who had been such a big hit in Boston ultimately decided he wanted to team up with an old AAU buddy — LeBron James.
Powe traveled to Cleveland on Tuesday to have his knee examined by Cavaliers team medical personnel, with the expectation that he will sign a two-year, $1.77 million deal Wednesday.
A source told ESPN.com that Powe will sign for the league minimum for players with three years of service — $855,189. Cleveland will hold a team option for a second season at $915,852.
Powe, who re-tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during Game 2 of the Celtics’ first-round playoff loss to the Chicago Bulls, is not expected to be ready to play until sometime around February.
But if he returns healthy, he will bolster a Cleveland big man rotation that already includes Shaquille O’Neal, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejao along with youngsters Darnell Jackson, J.J. Hickson and Jawad Williams and recently signed Jamario Moon.
The Celtics forfeited their exclusive negotiating rights to Powe when they declined to tender him a contract offer in June. He had spent the past two years sharing time with Glen Davis as the backup power forward behind Kevin Garnett, averaging 7.7 points and 4.9 rebounds last season, and had a huge performance in Game 2 of the 2008 NBA Finals when he scored 21 points in just 15 minutes as the Celtics took a 2-0 lead over the Lakers.
Los Angeles, Portland, Dallas, Orlando and Miami also expressed interest in Powe, whose preference was to remain in the Eastern Conference and to sign with the team most capable of giving him his best shot to exact some revenge on the Celtics after they effectively gave up on him by declining to tender him a qualifying offer.
Powe had a huge game against Cleveland last March 6, going for 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting with 11 rebounds. But he injured his right knee five games later, sat out the next 12 games, then returned for the final two games of the 2008-09 regular season before tearing up his left knee (which had already undergone previous reconstructive surgery) in the playoffs against the Bulls.