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Leon Powe: The Next Bill Laimbeer?

laimbeer3.jpg In his book, Chocolate Thunder, Darryl Dawkins expressed his disdain for Bill Laimbeer in an anecdote that involved an intentional punch to the testicles from the Pistons thug. I’ve always taken if for granted that Celtics fans hate Bill Laimbeer. We hate him for the logical reasons â€" his style of play, his on court demeanor and the way, to this day, he embraces the villain role. And we hate him for arbitrary reasons as well â€" the way he talks, his presence on Midway’s original NBA Jam, and the fact that he was born in Boston. Yet in reading Dawkins’ book it struck me that maybe everyone, minus Pistons fans of course, hates Bill Laimbeer.

And surprisingly Laimbeer’s bio from NBA.com does not even attempt to portray him in a positive light. In fact it adds fuel to the fire by celebrating the very things he is despised for, “In 14 bruising NBA seasons Laimbeer made up for his minuscule vertical leap, slow feet, and sluggishness by becoming a master of posturing, muscling, and anticipating -- plus fomenting trouble, pretending to be fouled, and drawing his opponents' ire. Laimbeer always seemed to be nursing a brawl-induced shiner or broken nose. He was punched by some of the league's best players, including Robert Parish, including Bob Lanier, including Larry Bird and including Charles Barkley."

Initially I was annoyed that NBA.com was blatantly praising Laimbeer’s nauseating behavior. But then it got me thinking. Will there ever be another Bill Laimbeer? Fans, scouts, reporters, authors, shoe companies, and other NBA lovers have spent an inordinate amount of time trying to find the next Michael Jordan. There is a general unwillingness to accept the fact that a player with that combination of athleticism, work ethic, indomitable will, and marketability was a one time phenomenon. All the hype that surrounded Grant Hill, Harold Miner, Jerry Stackhouse, Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter, and whomever else ignores another more realistic scenario. Isn't it far more likely that another NBA player will overcome his physical limitations to become a key member of a franchise, alienating himself from opponents and every other NBA city in the process. Is anyone up to the challenge?

In looking over NBA players from the last 13 Laimbeer free seasons a few names emerge â€" Raja Bell, Manu Ginobli, Bruce Bowen, Danny Fortson, and…Leon Powe.

Raja Bell:

Pros â€" His flopping is comical at times. Close lined Kobe, in a playoff game no less.

Cons â€" He is a guard and his size does not let him live up to Laimbeer’s ways. For example, while Bell was willing to fight Ron Artest, realistically that would have ended poorly (search for the clip on YouTube if you can deal with aggressive Tupac). Finally, his three point shooting and the fact that he is likeable (read Jack McCallum’s Seven Seconds or Less: My Season on the Bench with the Runnin' and Gunnin' Phoenix Suns) derailed his rise to villain.

Manu Ginboli:

Pros - Easily sees Bell’s flopping and raises it to a new level. Has a "I could have been in Red Dawn even though my nationality was not represented" vibe about him.

Con â€" Not even the most hated player on his own team. And he’s too much of an offensive talent.


Bruce Bowen:

Pro â€" Now we’re getting somewhere. In the past he has angered Ray Allen, Phil Jackson, Isiah Thomas , Vince Carter, Michael Finley and countless others. His aggressive defense is the only thing that keeps him in the Association. Bonus points because he did not flourish until landing in San Antonio. Prior to that he played for three organizations including the Celtics, who simply were not good enough to maximize his talents. Similarly, do you think Laimbeer would have thrived with the Clippers? These guys need the right situations.

Cons - The fans just don’t seem to hate Bowen enough, as he took much less heat than I expected for kicking Ray Allen in the back. Also some people adhere to the line of thinking that Bowen’s dirty reputation is overblown and that players such as Allen only call him out to gain an edge.

Danny Fortson:

Pros - Stu Jackson once called him a gangster. Even some of his teammates dislike him. Has been on the cusp of the hallowed “Sheed territory” with technical fouls.

Cons - He has an atrocious injury history. Has been traded one too many times and spent more than his fair share of time on the bench. Has a female hairstyle.

leon dunk.jpg And now my dark horse candidate â€" Leon Powe. Granted he has not seen enough time for anyone to know what he is truly capable of accomplishing on the court. Furthermore, by all accounts he is a likeable guy. However, Powe does have some elements working in his favor:

1. He plays the game with a homicidal glare and sprints up and down the middle of the court the entire time. He appears to be begging someone, anyone, to get in the way.

2. While he does not have the same physical limitations as Laimbeer, Powe is undersized for his position. He will always have to outwork people.

3. Earlier in the season the C's snapped an 18 game losing streak by defeating the Bucks and Powe got some garbage time. In the waning seconds he was the only Celtic still playing defense, desperately trying to prevent Milwaukee from cutting into a 20-point deficit. That kind of intensity is essential.

4. Finally, the smoking gun: "I'm going to play Leon a lot more because the one thing Leon does every night is he instigates. He's physical. I'm going to put him on the floor and I could care less about the other stuff he doesn't do. [Lamar] Odom wanted to fight him [playing the LA Lakers Friday night]. [Ronny] Turiaf wanted to fight him That's great. It's about time someone made the other team angry.” â€" Doc Rivers, by way of Shira Springer .

Ultimately we have not seen another Bill Laimbeer. He was a formidable package of cheap shots, whining, and over the top facial expressions. When it comes down to it, none of the aforementioned players make you wonder, “Who’s watching hell while he’s up here?” And that's not a bad thing. Leon Powe does not have to sell his soul to make an impact. At a time when Boston’s opponents are not afraid to sit their stars and openly coast during games, the Celtics desperately need an edge. If this is going to be a losing team, and there is little doubt about that, at the very least their opponents should leave the court knowing they had to fight for a W. Leon Powe might be able to help with that.

  {mos_smf_discuss:Celtics Talk}