CHICAGO – It’s been said before (maybe in this very space) that Carlos Boozer is the prototypical modern professional athlete, his Under Armour matched by a top coat that is equal parts Teflon, Kevlar and calluses.
The Chicago Bulls power forward has been a target for critics, be they ticket buyers, microphone wielders or keyboard jockeys, for most of his 12 NBA seasons and particularly so since the summer of 2010, when he was the Bulls’ consolation get in that offseason’s free-agent shopathon. If it wasn’t for a game that barked louder than it often bit (“Hold dat!”), it was for all those muscles that seemed more show than go.
For the past couple of seasons at least, Boozer has been the target of nearly non-stop speculation over Chicago’s likelihood of shedding him via the amnesty clause in the league’s latest collective bargaining agreement. Signed to a five-year, $75 million deal as a piece to an imagined Bulls championship, he and his salary have seen longer as an impediment to that. A segment of fans and media has grown impatient as each season passes, Boozer still in residence, emoting, slapping at the ball and sitting down the stretch of close games.
Look, we come here to assess Boozer, not to praise him. He does what he does. He is what he is and, for that matter, always has been. And at some point, you have to admire the tenacity and respect the unflappability.
“It’s easy [to tune out critics],” the veteran forward said Wednesday after putting up 15 points and 13 rebounds in a surprisingly uncompetitive 103-83 victory over Golden State at United Center. “That’s why I’ve been in the league so long. Twelve years, and just focus on what’s in front of you.”
Boozer is having another Boozer season, only slightly less so. His shooting percentage is at a career-low 45.5 percent and, though he’s making free throws more often than ever (77.6 percent), he’s taking a near-low of 3.0 per game. He has dipped to a just-average PER (15.0), using basketball-reference.com stats, compared to 20.1 for his first 11 seasons and 19.7 as recently as 2011-12.
And yet, Boozer almost is a mini-Timmy, much like the Spurs’ Hall of Fame-bound Tim Duncan, in his unfailing consistency for more than a decade. Compare his numbers per 36 minutes this season at age 32 with those he posted in his third year, 2004-05 in Utah at age 23, and across his career:
- 2013-14: 18.0 points, 10.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.5 blocks, 7.6 FG, 16.6 FGA
- 2004-05: 18.4 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.5 blocks, 7.3 FG, 14.0 FGA
- Career: 18.8 points, 11.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.5 blocks, 7.8 FG, 14.9 FGA
This season, Boozer fussed a little over being yanked down the stretch of close games, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau tending – as he had been for three seasons – to trust backup Taj Gibson‘s defense. He has missed six games to injury, compared to three in all of 2012-13. His accuracy is down, as noted earlier. His lift at the rim is almost non-existent many nights. And his on-court/off-court net impact is way off (minus-4.8) from his career mark (minus-0.7).
Still, Chicago is 12-6 when Boozer posts a double-double. A scout at Wednesday’s game said: “I like his game more than a lot these [other scouts]. He’s not a good individual defender but he’s all right as a team defender.” And through two tumultuous seasons of Derrick Rose injuries and the Luol Deng trade last month, Boozer’s constancy has been almost reassuring.
“He’s playing well. And we need it,” Thibodeau said Wednesday. “The thing is, I look at he, Joakim [Noah] and Taj as three starters. I look at their production at the end of every night, it’s very, very good. I think we’re getting great play up front, and that’s been a huge key for our team. The rebounding is huge for us. Then the fact that we can throw the ball in to Carlos on one side, to Taj on the other, that’s another weapon that we can go to.”
Said Boozer: “We bring the juice, man, we bring the juice to this team. It’s very … loud (laughs), very passionate and we try to hold the front down inside.”
The question remains open: Will the Bulls amnesty Boozer after this season? Conventional wisdom suggests that any time a team can clear $16.8 million off its salary cap and luxury-tax liability with minimal downside, it should. But paying Boozer all that money not to play or, worse, to post his 14 points and nine rebounds for some rival at a bargain, double-dipping rate might not set well with Jerry Reinsdorf, the Bulls’ cost-conscious chairman.
It could, in fact, feel like a luxury tax of its own, especially if Chicago doesn’t try to dredge out serious cap space for this summer’s class of free agents, focusing instead on 2014-15 improvement from Rose’s return, the luring of stashed Euro forward Nikola Mirotic and the draft.
Meanwhile, whether for the next two months of the regular season and however long the Bulls last in the playoffs or for 15 months of the same, Boozer goes blithely along. His curtain publicly seems as impervious as the great and powerful Oz’s, though teammates have peeked behind it.
“I’m proud of ‘Los,” Noah said, “because I know ‘Los is going through a lot. For him to bring the intensity he brings every night, with everything that’s said about him and the future, even playing time – I mean, there are a lot of issues that are probably frustrating for him. But for him to come out here, practice the way he practices, come ready to play every day, it shows what kind of guy he is and I really respect that.”
Said Gibson: ” As a whole, we all help him out. We all ride with him. We really don’t think about what the outside world says about us, ’cause we understand some people are going to go against us no matter what. … Thibs just tells him, ‘Don’t worry about that stuff. Go out there, play basketball and have fun.’ He’s having fun. He’s laughing all the time. In the back of your mind, you want to think about [criticism] but as a team, we try to take his mind off that.”