The indispensable man: Carlos Boozer


Sep 29

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We pretty much know what Derrick Rose is going to do, drive, slash, score and continue to develop. We know Joakim Noah’s going to hustle and rebound, and did I mention hustle? We know Luol Deng’s going to get his 17 and seven in the end and the other guys will fill in around the edges. There shouldn’t be many surprises with the 2010-11 Bulls.

That’s why the key guy for the season is Carlos Boozer.

If Boozer is what he’s been, basically a 20/10 guy who can draw the defense and score inside, the Bulls have a chance to be awfully good, a superior defensive and rebounding team and uniquely balanced to the point they could be in serious contention in the Eastern Conference.

But if Boozer is hurt, as he was frequently early in his career with the Jazz right after signing a big contract, or if he doesn’t have the desire as he turns 29 in November in what is likely his last big contract, well, it could be a disappointing time.

Thus far, the early results are encouraging with longtime team insiders marveling at Boozer’s versatility and presence in the post.

“He was terrific,” coach Tim Thibodeau enthused after the early practices. “He sets a great example with everything he does, every drill, ever play, team concepts. He doesn’t take any plays off. He’s so unselfish. I can’t say it enough. Everyone knows he’s a great rebounder and scorer, but he’s so unselfish. A guy cuts and is open, he’ll see him and get him the ball.”

Boozer is also why retaining Noah is so vital.

They are almost a perfect pairing, and each needs the other.

Boozer, who has long been undersized and thus overmatched against big front lines like the Lakers at 6-8, needs someone like the seven foot Noah to be rugged up front and handle the bigger guys. And Noah needs someone like Boozer who can step out and make shots and keep the defense from collapsing around him, thus giving him more space to offensive rebound and get to the basket.

Likewise, Boozer’s postup threat can open the outside for shooters like Kyle Korver and give Noah a chance to attack the boards from the weak side.

Already, it’s a combination that has encouraged Boozer.

“For us, I don’t think we have a (Michael) Jordan type guy,” Boozer was saying the other day as training camp opened. “For us, I feel we can do it by team, a couple of stars, a few great supporting people and a deep bench. I think we’re going to be better than people think.”

If they are, an awful lot will depend on Boozer.

That’s also because he already is a unique player in Bulls history.

Not NBA history because most teams have had postup interior players.

But not the Bulls, who at their best in the 70’s played Dick Motta’s face up forward offense into the championship seasons with Phil Jackson and the triple post which featured ball movement and motion over going inside.

Sure, Jackson would open the game with two plays for Bill Cartwright and later Luc Longley, but that’s about the extent of the postup court spacing.

The result despite the grand success of the Jordan era has been a franchise basically bereft of talented postup players.

With career averages of 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds after 19.5 points and 11.2 rebounds last season, Boozer could be the best postup threat in Bulls history, exluding Jordan, of course, who was the best player in franchise history at every position.

So I was thinking of the great postup big men in franchise history and here’s my list. I am using “great” with great lack of conviction.

  1. Artis Gilmore
  2. Carlos Boozer
  3. Bill Cartwright
  4. Elton Brand
  5. Eddy Curry
  6. Brian Williams (Bison Dele)
  7. Steve Johnson
  8. Cliff Ray
  9. Luc Longley
  10. Jawaan Oldham
  11. Nate Thurmond
  12. Bob Boozer
  13. Stacey King
  14. Wallace Bryant
  15. Coby Dietrick
  16. Othella Harrington
  17. Mike Brown
  18. Marcus Fizer
  19. Kornel David
  20. Erwin Mueller

Yes, that’s the best.

I left off Robert Parish and James Edwards, who were terrific post players, though by the time they got to the Bulls as extra on the later championship teams they were creaking and using WD-40 at halftime.

It is heady company for Boozer, so perhaps no one should mention it to keep the pressure off him of trying to remain high on that list.

I’ll admit, I’ve had my doubts in the past about Boozer and questioned the wisdom of trading for him a few years back when he was talking openly of leaving the Jazz. Though as I’ve checked more, the concerns have lessened.

There was that famous incident with the Cavs in 2004 when—and actual details are contradictory—Boozer apparently talked the Cavs into making him a free agent on a technicality so he could resign at a higher amount with them and then bolted for the Jazz.

Jim Paxson was the Cavs general manager then. He’s now on the Bulls staff, and when Boozer’s name came up for discussion after last season, Jim Paxson supported the Bulls pursuit of Boozer.

Boozer had a rocky time in Utah, missing 31 games his first season and 49 his second season without needing surgery for a hamstring problem. He was openly questioned about his willingness to play and toughness. He later added a season when he missed 45 games, basically sitting out almost a quarter of his six years.

And then during the 2008-09 season, he announced he was likely going to opt out after the season. Owner Larry Miller blistered Boozer for the disloyalty, and Boozer had to come crawling back when his preferred teams, the Heat and Pistons, declined to offer him deals. So he didn’t opt out and finished his deal with the Jazz last season.

But whenever I’d inquire among Jazz insiders about Boozer, I always heard the same thing, that despite the issues coach Jerry Sloan always had his back and always supported Boozer.

This is huge for me knowing Jerry since no one suffers fools or fakers less than Jerry. Jerry knows phonies, and he doesn’t put up with them. If he likes Boozer, it’s good enough for me.

It was no secret, Chris Bosh, in part because he’s bigger, was higher on the Bulls free agency priority list. But Boozer always has come up bigger than Bosh. Though coming into the NBA just one season sooner, Boozer has played in four times as many playoff games. And while Bosh never was out of the first round in his two playoff appearances, both of which he came up small averaging fewer than 10 rebounds, Boozer played past the first round in three of his four playoffs.

Yes, Boozer had Deron Williams and a real coach. But Bosh constantly failed to lift his team much and provide inspiration, even though missing fewer games. And Bosh does have knee problems which had Toronto hesitating on offering him the full maximum contract. As does Amar’e Stoudemire. No, it wasn’t one slam dunk choice among the free agent power forwards.

But Boozer seems the best fit for what the Bulls have, especially with his ability to run the floor and with his special ability to finish so strong with his left hand.

“We want to be a great team regardless,” said Boozer. “A lot of teams loaded up. We have our own goals and motivation. As a competitor, you want to play and compete against the team that is supposed to be the best. Hopefully, when all is said and done we’ll be mentioned in the same breath. We have a good group. We don’t have any head cases. We don’t have any problems. I think we have enough talent on this team to beat anyone in the NBA. That’s not just words. Now, we’ve got to work to prove it.”

I also thought one issue that hurt Boozer, especially in Utah, was he was supposed to be the next Karl Malone. There aren’t any, like no next Jordan. Malone basically never missed a game. Same with John Stockton. So when Boozer did, he pretty much never could get the community back on his side.

“They were phenomenal players,” agrees Boozer. “You cannot be someone else. People like to write more bad things than good.

“Not you,” Boozer quickly interjected to those now around him. “But I can’t worry about that. When you’re hurt, you’re hurt. There’s nothing you can do about that.

“In Utah, we pushed, filled the lanes, tried to get layups and dunks and that’s what we’ll try to do here,” said Boozer. “We go inside out. (Coach) wants layups and penetration, inside out play. D-Rose might be the quickest guard in the league. I’ve got to get out and fill the lane. It’s going to be exciting playing with him.”

Though the excitement will be if Boozer can be who he has been, scoring inside, drawing the defense, making jumpers and somehow not feeling the pressure of knowing he’s being asked now to walk in the shoes of Wallace Bryant, Erwin Mueller and Jawaan Oldham.

What do you think? Leave a comment below: