Xmas Countdown: Banking on Boozer

Carlos Boozer didn't live up to his contract in his first season with the Bulls. Steve Mitchell/US Presswire

CHICAGO -- There is no player on the Bulls' roster this season who will face more scrutiny than Carlos Boozer.

The power forward was inconsistent throughout much of his first regular season in Chicago, and his struggles continued well into the postseason. With that, fans all over the city are just holding their breaths to see how Boozer fares in his second campaign. He showed flashes of the man who was a 20 point, 10 rebound machine in Utah, but he also missed 23 games and played poorly on the defensive end -- as was his reputation elsewhere. It got so bad that Boozer (and Joakim Noah) weren't even on the floor when the Chicago Bulls threw away Game 5 in the Eastern Conference finals. After just one year in Chicago, a lot of fans believed Boozer was a bust.

All the criticism appears to have motivated him. He spent a lot of time working out in Miami and has dropped more than 20 pounds, according to Bulls GM Gar Forman. Boozer says he feels "lighter" on the floor.

"Criticism is all in how you take it," Boozer said recently. "At the end of the day, some people take criticism the wrong way. I take it as motivation. Criticism motivates you. That's the way I've been my whole career. And I'm very motivated, to say the least."

Motivation is great, but the key for Boozer is finding some way to stay on the floor. As far as Bulls fans are concerned in this case, talk is cheap. Boozer needs to prove that he can produce, especially given the fact that he's in just the second year of an $80 million dollar contract. All his teammates have come out in support of him since training camp opened, saying all the right things. But it isn't going to matter if the veteran forward doesn't play well all the way through the year.

Boozer could be an absolute beast all season long, but if he doesn't show up in the playoffs that regular-season production is will quickly be forgotten.

The biggest issues for him, aside from staying healthy, are two fold. First, he has to at least try to become a serviceable defender under Tom Thibodeau. Early reports out of practice were good, but his performance in the first two preseason games looks a lot like it did last year.

Secondly, Boozer and Noah must prove that they can play well together on the floor. Each man played well when the other one was injured last year. Each looked more confident when the other one wasn't around. In order for the Bulls to take the next step past Miami this season, Boozer and Noah must figure out how to bring the best out of each other on the floor.

Noah has built up enough credibility with the fan base over time to withstand a lackluster season. If Boozer has another year like he did last season (especially in the postseason) the cries to get him out of town will become much louder than the murmurs that could be heard over the summer.