Apr 16, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Carlos Boozer (5) wipes his head during a time out during the first half of the game against the Charlotte Bobcats at Time Warner Cable Arena. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Carlos Boozer vs. the NBA

In 2008 Carlos Boozer was no longer under construction. He was an All-Star for the second year in a row. It was a particularly amazing accomplishment for someone who was often criticized for his lack of athleticism. His numbers in his sixth season proved cynics wrong: 21 points, 10 rebounds. Carlos Boozer’s career had a permanent feel to it, as if he would be the cornerstone for the Jazz for the next decade or more, a dominant power forward scorer and rebounder to control the paint. Carlos Boozer was only 26 years old.

Apr 14, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Carlos Boozer (5) during the first quarter at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The change was subtle. It happened the year after Carlos Boozer went to his second All Star game. In 2009 Blake Griffin was the first pick in the NBA Draft. Griffin, an explosive power forward with insane athleticism and quick moves around the rim would revolutionize the position for future power forwards.  He would be the archetype, not Carlos Boozer, a front court player with athleticism and a sick vertical which would be the calling card for a new generation. Before he even knew it to be true, Carlos Boozer was already in decline.

Carlos Boozer had a particular habit and that was to leave cities with anger simmering.  In Cleveland, the team that drafted him, he fled for more money, he turned his back on Lebron James. The blue collar city considered Boozer the prototypical athlete who was a money whore and their hate was palpable whenever he returned to play the Cavaliers. Expectedly, the boos rained from the rafters.

In Utah he was very good in the regular season and inconsistent bordering on terrible in the post season. His record against the Lakers in the playoffs was miserable. He lost every series he played and each year it was worse. He won two games in 2008. One game in 2009. And in 2010 the Jazz were swept.

After the last loss to the Lakers in 2010 the writing on the wall was in huge black ink hanging over his head. Boozer felt devalued and not trusted, the fans felt weary by it all and free agency was on the horizon. The overriding question was what did Carlos Boozer accomplish in Utah? What was his legacy?

After six years Carlos Boozer was an All-Star (twice). The Jazz were in the playoffs 4 out of 6 years and it was his misfortune to ram his head against the greatness of Pau Gasol whose size and skill he could not figure out or tear down.  And so the end was the same. Or if not the same than it was very predictable. Boozer left like he did in Cleveland. There was not much remorse.

Without Boozer’s approval, the NBA began a private war and Carlos Boozer would be its casualty. He was still a skilled scorer and rebounder but explosion had taken over the NBA. Carlos Boozer could not compete. He did not have the quickness and his game was reduced to a less is more dynamic. His rebounding did not change; he would always play hard. But as a player he never protected the rim nor exploded in the paint. He didn’t fly above the rim to dunk. He was old school, resorting to his jump shot which was reliable but could not be the equalizer.  It would not deliver him or the Chicago Bulls to the promised land.

May 15, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) reacts during the fourth quarter in game six of the second round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

What happened next was not so much revolutionary as it was practical and good business. After Blake Griffin was drafted so was DeMarcus Cousins, the man-child from Kentucky.  Derrick Favors was a lottery pick out of Georgia Tech. Kenneth Faried from Morehead State could jump out the gym. The league got quicker, more explosive while Carlos Boozer began his descent. He was in his thirties now and was not effective guarding his position. The fans in Chicago had begun to despise him. Mercy was gone. In its place was rebuke. Every mistake or every random miscue was over exaggerated. He was the villain in a city in which sports is about picking sides, about love and hate and little empathy.

He was a ten year veteran and in the playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers. Derrick Rose tore his ACL a couple of games earlier and the team tried to be brave about it. In Philadelphia, in the close out game Carlos Boozer missed 10 out of 11 shots and finished the season with 3 points.

Before things changed in the NBA Carlos Boozer had proven a man can overachieve. Boozer was a second round pick many scouts were dismissive of because of his diminishing athleticism. But he made a career for himself and it translated into an All-Star weekend. It was Boozer’s misfortune that in the middle of his career the rules changed and he was the odd/old man out in his own profession to the point that he didn’t play in 4th quarters last year, relinquishing his position to Taj Gibson, an athletic rim protector.

The final humiliation, his amnesty, has brought him to a defining moment. He is back in the Western Conference, in the same division as Blake Griffin who began the slow exodus of Carlos Boozer, NBA star. Who can Carlos Boozer become as a member of the Lakers? How far has his decline ruined him? He will always be a rebounder and so he will be in the league for a few more years. But can Carlos Boozer be trusted at the age of 32? Are his best years a thing of the past?

 

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