To Booz or not to Booz, that is the question


Nov 29

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He’s back! Well, not actually since he really never was here.

Carlos Boozer, the Bulls’ major summer free agent acquisition, went through a full practice Monday with the team for the first time in nearly two months, since he broke his hand at the end of the first week of training camp.

So the big question—the only one, really, at least for now—is when will Boozer finally play?

Boozer said after practicing Monday he’ll continue treatments and see how it feels before Wednesday’s game with the Orlando Magic. He indicated if the right hand feels good, he’ll play. The coaching staff and management, frankly, know about as much as anyone because they are leaving it completely to Boozer, as teams usually do with injuries, and Boozer said he’ll let everyone know Wednesday.

Against Orlando, strategically for a return, would be a good game since they don’t really play a power forward. That would work for Boozer, at least offensively, as he could have his way in the post against Lewis. Of course, then he’d have to chase on the perimeter, which he isn’t good at and doesn’t really do. And that, certainly, would compromise the Bulls defensively. Luol Deng probably is the best power forward matchup for Lewis.

But then is it best to return Friday in Boston against Kevin Garnett? Garnett’s not as tough as he’d like people to believe and, in truth, never has liked much contact. Plus, he won’t wander outside, but with the adrenalin from a long awaited return, wouldn’t it make sense to come back at home?

Then maybe Saturday against a Houston team and the tricky Luis Scola at power forward. He has a bag filled with feints and fakes, but won’t beat you often from the outside. And it is a team the Bulls already have defeated this season.

I don’t know when Boozer will return, but I’d probably wait a week and have him return when there isn’t the slightest question about soreness in his hand because I know Boozer has been told if he were to return too soon and aggravate the injury he could be out months.

Is it worth it?

Of course, this remains all speculation and observation as Boozer has been medically cleared.

But I think you have to be cautious with a player with Boozer’s history. He’s had injuries before which have lingered, and while the Bulls do need him back, they also have a bit of a cushion at 9-6 from the solid road trip. Plus, after this week, the schedule finally begins to let up considerably.

The Bulls this week play the East’s two best teams, the Magic and Celtics, consecutively. Then next week, it’s a good Oklahoma City team, Toronto and the Lakers Dec. 10. After that it’s 14 straight games with teams about at .500 or well below. That would be an ideal time to have Boozer back at full strength and anxious to go, when the Bulls can run off a good streak.

After all, this season isn’t about December, but getting on a roll sometime and being at your best after the February All Star break. And it’s impressive how well the Bulls have played considering they basically devoted all last season and losing the likes of Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, Tyrus Thomas and John Salmons over the last two seasons with Boozer the key addition and he hasn’t played yet.

But, ah, here’s the rub—the Bulls really do need Boozer back.

Taj Gibson missed practice again Monday, this time with the ankle injury he suffered on the trip. But his plantar fasciitis has remained an issue and doesn’t appear to be going away. So there will be times he’s not as effective or cannot play. Maybe Wednesday is another, though, as I said, Orlando isn’t exactly your power team up front unless they use Brandon Bass more. Mostly, they still rely on Dwight Howard to draw the defense and spread the court for three point shooters.

But the Bulls need Boozer’s return more to correct that troublesome first and third quarter start, that is if coach Tom Thibodeau sticks with the same starting lineup. Though the team has recovered from a number of early first and third quarter deficits, it probably is time to alter that lineup.

Just putting Boozer in would solve the entire issue. But is he ready?

The problem, as I see it, opening the game and the second half is the lack of scoring with that group. Keith Bogans is not a scorer, and, as I’ve said, don’t blame him. He wasn’t brought it to be one or ever suggested he was. But Gibson is on and off ailing, and when he is troubled he seems to fall away and take more jumpers. Plus, Joakim Noah, as we know, isn’t a scorer. He will make some post moves now and when stationed at the right block going left has been effective. But he tends not to look for his shot to open the game or the half.

So it’s Deng and Derrick Rose. It’s often why Deng gets off to hot starts as the team looks for him early without a true post threat to go inside/outside. But if his shot is off, as it has been to start some games on the trip, that leaves Rose.

Look, if you are the opposition and playing the Bulls against that group you have to be saying, “Let anyone but Rose beat us.”

The measure of how truly great Rose has played is he never gets anywhere without seeing a double and a defensive wall forming because you aren’t really guarding Bogans and playing slight attention to Gibson and Noah. Still, Rose is the league’s second leading scorer and coming off averaging more than 30 per game on the trip.

Boozer’s return changes that dynamic.

With Boozer you have a post threat the defense has to honor. Forget the pick-and-roll with Rose. They’ll figure that out easily enough. Boozer can get deep and establish post position and you can open the game throwing the ball inside and making the defense space out. It opens the floor for Rose, not that he’s shown he needs it, but more so gives the defense a legitimate scoring threat on the inside to consider.

That would alleviate the scoring problems to open each half even with Bogans still starting. Thibodeau likes to save Kyle Korver for late game situations, which is fine, but he probably needs to get Ronnie Brewer on the floor to open the game. Brewer has been getting more time than Bogans of late, but perhaps it would be wise for now to get Brewer to shooting guard, where he was expected to start.

Additionally, both he and Korver are accustomed to playing with Boozer from their years together in Utah, so they know the spacing he needs better, and he has a familiarity with them and where they want the ball.

The Bulls survived November, and Bogans did a good job during that period. But it’s time to go to the lineups and combinations that the team considered going into the season.

Though maybe not with Boozer quite yet. He told me last week he still was feeling soreness after he worked out, though that seems to have moderated. And while he says he is comfortable with the system from being around and traveling with the team and is in good shape, it does seem a lot to ask from someone who basically has never played with this team to step in after two practices and be a starter whom the Bulls will be throwing the ball to in order to enhance their offense.

I know Boozer is anxious to play. You don’t want to keep a player from competing, and Boozer has been a terrific team guy all throughout the trip with his bench enthusiasm. Though with his eclectic dress that often looks like he’s auditioning for a Beatles album cover, it will be nice to see him on the bench in uniform.

Though I’m not certain it’s the best thing to see that on the floor Wednesday.

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