CHICAGO – Carlos Boozer talked Thursday night and again Friday about how long the Chicago Bulls’ offseason would be, given their early exit from the 2012 NBA playoffs.
Boozer’s will be a little longer, though, than most of his teammates’, thanks to his head start.
Boozer, the Bulls’ polarizing power forward, was done 16 minutes before the rest of his team, watching from the bench as Game 6 against the Philadelphia 76ers was decided Thursday night at Wells Fargo Center. It was the second straight elimination game in which Boozer spectated through crunch time: he sat out the final 14:24 of his team’s 83-80 defeat in Game 5 against Miami last May, finishing with five points on 1-of-6 shooting and six rebounds.
This time, Boozer scored three points and missed 10 of his 11 field-goal attempts. Some nights shots clang off, sure, but logging only 27:10 on a night when the team’s two best players, point guard Derrick Rose and center Joakim Noah, weren’t available? While coach Tom Thibodeau was grinding the other starters down in the second half? After playing 26:13 as the Heat bounced them a year ago?
Oh yeah, that’s what you want from the highest paid player on your team ($13.5 million salary in 2011-12) and the guy signed to that $75 million free agent deal in 2010 to be Chicago’s No. 2 offensive threat.
“Obviously there’s a lot of shouda, coulda, wouldas,” Boozer said when he spoke with reporters at the Berto Center practice facility Friday in the northwest suburbs. “Every team goes through that when you lose. We were dinged up this year. We were like a car missing a few parts at the end of the season, but we were still ticking and going and fighting.”
Sounds reasonable, even mature, right? That’s part of what drives so many Bulls fans nuts with Boozer, a fellow who seems to shrug off setbacks way more easily than the folks who root for the team and die a little inside when things go badly. In that sense, Boozer is a professional professional athlete, someone who shows up, plays his game and – from all outward appearances, anyway – goes home and cashes his paycheck without getting too worked up one way or another.
There are a lot of those types across all sports. There’s one on Chicago’s north side – outfielder Alfonso Soriano of the Cubs, who also seems unaffected by fans’ frustrations with him over a fat contract, limited trade value and spotty production. Boozer, 30, has three years and more than $47 million left on his deal.
He has lost lift, has trouble finishing at the rim, rarely goes strong from the low-post in ways that would complement his strong mid-range game and is a mediocre-to-poor defender. He also trades in showy emotions – shouting “And one!” after his buckets, letting loose with primal screams – but doesn’t seem bothered at all when he comes up small in the most crucial times.
It has made him a target for United Center boo birds – who get shrugged off, too, as fans shouting “Booz!” Boozer gets criticized constantly on Chicago sports-talk radio, and plenty of folks are rooting for Bulls management to amnesty him, eat the balance of his fat contract and commit full-time to Taj Gibson by the start of next season.
Is that fair to Boozer? He has been for Chicago the same player he was in Cleveland and Utah: a bit undersized, more bark than bite in style, a reliable defensive rebounder. His stats pro-rated to 36 minutes have been consistent, down this season (18.3 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 53.2 percent shooting) only slightly from his personal bests in 2006-07 (21.8, 12.2, 56.1).
During a Bulls home game late in the regular season, a member of the Jazz staff during Boozer’s time in Salt Lake City said the biggest difference in Boozer then and now was that, “We ran our offense through him.” With Chicago, Boozer has had to adjust and defer at times to Rose, Luol Deng and, this season, Richard Hamilton.
So maybe the on-court production isn’t all Boozer’s fault. But submitting so compliantly to Thibodeau’s benchings at key times is; no one wants to see Boozer raise a ruckus with the coach but getting a little grumpy at his own self wouldn’t hurt. Yet it doesn’t happen. Boozer’s Teflon coating remains impenetrable.
“They’re all tough [offseasons] when you lose,” Boozer said on the day of exit interviews with GM Gar Forman. “I haven’t won a championship yet. All 10 years have been tough in the offseason. But we’ll get healthy and we’ll be back and we’ll be very good and very hungry and hopefully we can stay healthy. Would you guys love to see us at full strength and completely healthy when the playoffs start. We haven’t had that yet.”
Boozer added: “”I’m still formulating [my plans]. It’s all kind of a sudden. Generally I’ll be back home in Miami with my kids and my wife, work my butt off, come back next year in great shape and ready to go again.”
How ‘ bout ready to stay on the floor for pivotal, season-defining fourth quarters? That would be an offseason well spent.