Familiar Surroundings

Josh Powell had a pretty good two-year stay with the Lakers, but he knew it was time to move on when Atlanta offered him a $1.1 million dollar contract this past offseason.

Josh Powell had a pretty good two-year stay with the Lakers. He got some minutes under a truly legendary head coach in Phil Jackson, got to play alongside the likes of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol and won two NBA championship rings during his time out west. So, after such a great experience in LA, it's not hard to blame the NC State product for not wanting to leave.

But when Atlanta offered him a $1.1 million contract during this past offseason, he knew it was time to move on. After all, Josh had grown up in the area and was a product of Riverdale HS, so playing close to home wasn't a huge adjustment. Still, it meant leaving a core group of teammates and coaches he had come to consider family with the Lakers.

"It definitely was [tough to leave]," he said. "I've been very grateful for my two years out there, being able to experience not just the championships but the relationships with the guys on the team, being part of the tradition like that and playing alongside guys like Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant.

"It just goes on and on. Being coached by Phil Jackson, Brian Shaw and the other guys [was great too]. It's a great situation and definitely some of the bigger years that I had in my life [were out there]. I'm very, very blessed to experience that."

He left what was a veteran-laden team for one that is a bit younger in the Hawks. And yes, he does get asked what it's like to win not one but two league titles during his time with the Lake Show.

"When I have been asked, it's been more so about what it's like to play there. The championships are one thing but to just be a part of a situation like that was probably the most asked question," he said.

With Atlanta, new coach Larry Drew brought the 6-foot-9 veteran power forward in to help bring his club some toughness, especially in the paint. "It's been good. I've been very appreciative of the opportunity I've been given here," Powell said. "I'm just continuing to work, get better and just staying with it. It's a long season. We have a really good team here. We can do a lot of good things, especially at playoff time. It will be exciting to watch."

Powell is averaging 4.2 pints and 2.6 rebounds, playing roughly 12 minutes a night off the bench for the Hawks.

"Well, we brought Josh in primarily to play some backup power forward. I've been able to use him some at the center position as well," said. "He's just another guy that gives me some flexibility with where I can use him. He's been playing a lot at the power forward position but I've had the flexibility to move him around at some five spot and utilize some of the things that he does do."

Teammate Etan Thomas is equally impressed.

"He brings a lot of hard work. He's a hard worker," Thomas said. "He brings a lot of intensity and championship experience. He played on a team like the Lakers and talks about things like Kobe's workout patterns or routines and different things like that. So he knows a lot. He brings a lot. He's a good guy that works hard. That's what you want."

Powell might have spent just two seasons in Raleigh before declaring himself eligible for the 2003 NBA Draft after a sophomore campaign where he averaged 12.4 points and 5.2 boards, only to go undrafted, but those days with the Wolfpack are never far from his mind.

"I'm still the same because I'm always there too. I'm very appreciative of that city, what they meant to me and especially in my career," he said. "It's been great. I still have a house out there and am always there. I did a weekend there last year that was really good. We had a camp and some other activities. It was good."

One thing he doesn't do is wonder what things might have been like had he not spent two years at NC State.

"No, I don't question what God has done. Everything has gone the way it was supposed to go and I'm very appreciative of that," he said.

His NBA career started in Dallas back in 2005, so every time he returns to Big D, it is a cool experience to look back and realize how far he's come since his days with the Mavericks. "It is where it started. It's definitely special. I definitely appreciate the city," Powell said. "I just have a great love for that team. Even the people and the fans, they still remember me, which is crazy. It's good. I love it."

And he admits it's pretty crazy to look at the current Mavs roster and see just two familiar faces remaining in 2006 NBA MVP Dirk Nowitzki and guard Jason Terry.

"Pretty much, they have gotten rid of everybody. They cleared almost everybody out," he said. "I wouldn't have thought they'd blow up the team like that after going to the finals. It's a business and things happen."

It was during his lone season in Dallas that he got his first taste of the NBA Finals as the Mavs played in the 2006 finals but lost to Miami in truly heartbreaking fashion. Josh went on to play in the Finals twice more in LA and was on the winning end of things both times. Even if someone asks him today about playing in three finals, he realizes how truly fortunate he is to be in such an elite group of players who have won multiple championships.

"You've just got to keep pushing but to get over the hump twice is an amazing thing. A lot of guys go through their career not being able to get to the finals," Powell said. "So, I'm definitely blessed to make that trip three times."

This year marks his seventh in the Association and during his stay in the NBA he has heard fans express their fair share of misconceptions about what things are truly like for him and the rest of the players in the league.

"[They don't realize] we're human. A lot of people wonder why is he doing this or why is he doing that? It's easy for them to say when they're not in this position," Powell said. "We have to take care of our bodies and have responsibility. We do a lot of things in the community. We have families. A lot of guys are married and have kids. We have personal lives and situations.

"Things don't always go right. No matter the money, there are a lot of things we deal with like the travel and the wear and tear on guys who play a lot of minutes. There are guys that want more minutes. You can just go down the list with things we have to deal with on a day-to-day basis."

"They just see 12 guys on the court and know it's a lot of money and feel like we should have nothing to be upset or complain about. We're all gifted, however many of us there are," he added. "It's unique what we do. That's why we're fortunate enough to get what we get. I just think it's a misconception about us. Whether its athletes, entertainers or whatever, we all go through things.

"There are a lot of situations. Don't think just because since we have money that everything is all good. Money helps but it doesn't make you completely happy. People need to realize that. We're all blessed and fortunate to do something we love to do and get paid for it."

Even now, in a completely new situation as Atlanta's backup power forward, Josh Powell realizes how truly blessed he is. Not only does he get to play the game he loves each and every day, but he also makes a nice living doing so. And it's not like he's a stranger in Raleigh.

He continues to call his old stomping grounds home in the summer and does his part to give back to a community that gave so much to him back in the day. In short, he's a guy that truly gets it and it's always nice to see individuals like him experience success.


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