Busy Body: A Feature Story on Josh Powell by Jon Cooper
No one will ever accuse Josh Powell of being a sell out.
The recent off-season is a perfect example.
A free agent, the 6-8, 240-pound forward/center had plenty of suitors, including the Los Angeles Lakers, with whom he'd signed as a free agent in the summer of 2008 and won back-to-back NBA Championships.
But instead of following the dollar signs in his eyes, he chose to follow his heart. That led him home to Atlanta.
To some that might be crazy. To Josh Powell, that's just him.
"I don't do it for the money. I do it for the love," said the 27-year-old Powell, who attended Riverside High School and who played AAU ball with a cousin of Josh Smith. "The biggest thing is that I get an opportunity. I understand the business and I'm very thankful for the time I did have with the [Lakers] organization. Now I legitimately have a time to show what I can do on the court."
Court time is precious to Powell, as that's when he goes to work. He's determined to make sure his teammates understand that and follow suit.
"It's communication, hard work, just showing my mentality and how I go about it each and every day," he said. "Being able to push guys and to help us better ourselves each day in practice. That's where it starts, really. Creating those good habits."
Hawks Head Coach Larry Drew learned early on that Powell is not shy about making a point with his new team.
"One thing he told me was you better tell whoever he's going against during practice that they better come ready every day," recalled Drew. "The first thing that came to my mind was, 'He would be great for Josh Smith to have to go against every day.' It will make both guys better basketball players."
Drew's vision has already come to fruition.
"He definitely brings a hard-nosed attitude to every practice and elevates practice," said Smith. "He definitely brings out the best in me in practice because he works hard. He's a guy that works hard and communicates and talks on the floor. You definitely need guys that have that experience, who have won multiple rings in this league."
Smith is not the only Hawk who has taken notice of what Powell brings to the table and can bring to the team.
"No question, he's going to push guys to play harder," said Al Horford. "In the past we haven't necessarily had that and I think that's a good thing for our team. He's experienced. He's played on championship teams. He knows what it takes. He brings that to practice and he'll bring that to the game. We're very lucky to have him."
General Manager Rick Sund doesn't deny that luck (i.e. his being an Atlanta native) may have helped get Powell on board, but said a bigger contributing factor may have been the support for Powell within the team in the recruiting process.
"A lot of our players wanted him," said Sund. "I was really surprised. I didn't realize how many of our players had talked to him or called him asking, 'Why don't you consider us?' I think probably the recruitment, the fact that he's from here and maybe a change of scenery is good for him, too."
Powell is appreciative of being wanted, especially by his hometown team. Appreciation of and clamoring for his services wasn't always the case.
A business management major at North Carolina State, he played two seasons in Raleigh, then entered the 2003 NBA Draft as an early-entry candidate.
After going undrafted, he headed to Europe to embark on his pro career. It began with a very brief stop in the Russian Superleague, where he played two games for Lokomotiv-Rostov, then finished the year at Euroride Scafati in Italy. After playing one more year in Italy, with Pepsi Caserta, he came back to the States, signing with the Dallas Mavericks.
The time overseas proved instrumental.
"I grew as a young man and I grew as a player," he said. "Being able to just play, that's the most important part of this game, having the opportunity to play. That's how you get better."
Over the next three seasons, he played with the Mavericks, Indiana, Golden State, then the L.A. Clippers before signing with the Lakers in August 2008. Now he's in Atlanta.
"I'm very happy to be back," he said. "Of course, my family is happier more than anything. I'm excited about the year, being able to represent my city, being a part of this team and organization, the players and the coaches that they have here. So I look forward to a wonderful year."
With the season-opener less than a week away. It's time to go to work. Then, again, for Powell, it always is.
Jon Cooper is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.
Photos Courtesy of Scott Cunningham.