By J.A. Adande
For some players it’s already time to analyze every facial expression and pronoun, so let the record show that as Utah power forward Carlos Boozer sat in front of his locker and absorbed the Jazz’s second-round sweep at the hands of the Lakers he used the first person plural.
“We have to improve,” Boozer said. “We have to get better.”
Does Boozer, who will be a free agent this summer, want to continue playing in Utah?
“It would be nice if it worked out,” he said.
And that’s about as much as he would discuss his future. It’s not strictly up to him of course, it’s a matter of the Jazz deciding how to allocate their resources, especially after the Portland Trail Blazers forced Utah to ante up $32 million on a four-year contract for Paul Millsap after the Blazers attempted to land the restricted free agent last summer. Millsap plays the same position as Boozer – and actually scored more points than him in a reserve role during this series.
But the Jazz already got through one season with both on the payroll (even if it required some salary trimming by sending backup point guard Eric Maynor to the Thunder). And they enjoyed a winning record and a productive year from Boozer even though he entered with the uncertainty of the final year of his contract dominating the discussion and the possibility that the Jazz could trade him.
Boozer played like a star, averaging 19.5 points and 11.2 rebounds per game during the regular season, and didn’t spend the whole season engaging in speculation about where he’d go next.
“He handled himself right off the bat,” Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. “He came in and sat down and we talked and I said, ‘You’re here to play basketball and I’m here to coach.’ He said, ‘All right, I’ll be here and do that.’”
Maybe it’s because he had experience going through this the year before, when he held the right to opt out of the final year of his contract. But after surveying the marketplace he decided he couldn’t do better than the $12.7 million the Jazz were set to pay him this season, so he came back to Utah to play it out.
“I have a lot of respect for the way he came in and played, what he’s tried to do,” Sloan said.
But if this was the end, it closed on a bad note. Boozer missed seven of 11 shots, was outscored 33-10 by power forward counterpart Pau Gasol, and committed four turnovers, numbers that offset his 14 rebounds. He fouled out with 3:31 remaining in the game.
Is that how his time in Utah will end? Could he end up in Miami or Chicago, two teams with abundant salary cap space that need frontcourt scoring? What are the criteria on his free agent agenda?
“I’ll figure it out later,” Boozer said. “It’s too soon for all that talk. Right now we’re disappointed that we lost and our season is over. All the free agent talk, we’ll talk about it in July.”
The Jazz’s season is over. Another free agent session begins.