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Where in the World Is Leon Powe?

When Levitt and I were up in Boston a couple months ago to write about the Celtics’ reliance on statistical analysis to make strategic and personnel decisions, one goal was to figure out strengths and weaknesses the Celtics knew about their own players and other teams’ players that weren’t obvious. Danny Ainge and Mike Zarren were understandably not very forthcoming — trade secrets and all that — but Zarren was willing to admit that:

Ray Allen‘s worth goes far beyond his perimeter shooting, that Rajon Rondo‘s rebounding was an undervalued asset, that Leon Powe‘s surprisingly strong play was not so surprising to the Celtics …

It’s true that Allen found ways to score in the last few weeks even when his jumper was stone cold. It’s also true that the diminutive Rondo loves to get inside and grab rebounds. But watching the Celtics beat the Pistons last night, I found myself thinking: Where in the world is Leon Powe?

By the end of the season, he was getting a lot of minutes, and that continued through the first two rounds of the playoffs. But he hasn’t set foot on the floor in the past few games; it’s as if he’s been disappeared.

Why? I haven’t heard the broadcasters on the Celtics-Pistons series (Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy, and Mark Jackson) mention Powe; quite possibly they have and I missed it. I like Van Gundy and Jackson a lot, in part because they aren’t shy about offering real critiques of players and coaches: that’s refreshing.

But even if Powe isn’t a topic of conversation on the game broadcast, I am hardly the only person to wonder where he’s gone. The blogosphere is rich with speculation and innuendo.

One blogger asked “Is Leon Powe Dead?” Another wondered whether Powe might be injured, or if he’d simply gotten in coach Doc Rivers‘s doghouse for some blown defensive assignments. (It has been interesting to watch how Rivers really goes with the “hot hand,” be it on offense or defense, and similarly keeps a cold guy on the bench for days at a time.) The Leon Powe Fan Site puts it bluntly: “Doc Rivers Doesn’t Like Leon,” and explains why.

I know far, far less about basketball than anyone mentioned in the paragraphs above. Still, it is strange to see an asset as valuable as Powe be taken out of commission. (His personal background is also fascinating, and heartbreaking, but that is another story.)

For the record, when I was on The Takeaway on May 14, I was asked to predict the outcome of the N.B.A. championship. I said it’d be the Celtics against the Lakers in the finals, with the Lakers winning. (Sorry, Mike and Danny.) I’m still feeling good about that prediction — although maybe, if the Celtics would un-bury Leon Powe from the bench, I might get proven wrong.