LAS VEGAS – We come not to praise Carlos Boozer but not to bury him, either.
The Chicago Bulls’ signing of Lakers free-agent Pau Gasol means that one veteran NBA power forward will be replacing another, with the benefit of the move to be measured, ultimately, in how much more success Chicago has as a team.
Here’s the bar Gasol has to scale: A .657 winning percentage (205-107) in four seasons, four postseason berths, one conference finals, no rings.
Some weight will be given, too, to the newness of it all and public relations aspect, with the 34-year-old Gasol coming in as a fresh face and personality for a team that tried and failed to land its primary target in free agency, Carmelo Anthony. He’ll be filling not just the position, then, but the role that Boozer had in salvaging something from Chicago’s free-agent plunge in 2010, when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson all declined the Bulls’ overtures.
Finally, the marginal superiority of Gasol’s game over Boozer’s will matter to a certain degree. Let’s presume superiority, anyway, since Gasol’s signing is coming directly at Boozer’s expense: The Bulls will be using the amnesty clause on the final year of Boozer’s contract, worth $16.8 million, to open the salary-cap space needed to sign the 7-foot Spaniard.
So is Gasol better than Boozer? And if so, by how much?
Over Boozer’s four-season run with the Bulls, he averaged 15.5 points and 9.0 rebounds while shooting 49.1 percent. He had a 17.4 PER, to go with a 102 offensive rating and 98 defensive rating.
Gasol’s numbers since 2010-11 with the Lakers: 17.1 ppg, 9.8 rpg and 49.9 percent shooting. He had a 20.5 PER, a 112 offensive rating and a 104 defensive rating.
They’re different types of power forwards, clearly. Gasol is three inches taller and has pterodactyl arms, which explains his blowout victory in blocked shots over Boozer (1,484 to 334). Part of that might be due to his instincts and a few defensive IQ points, though Gasol’s limited mobility could find him planted next to coach Tom Thibodeau late in the games just like Boozer was. Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson figure to remain the Bulls’ defensive closers among their bigs.
None of this is intended to sell Gasol short. He is a heady player, widely respected within the NBA and a solid citizen who drew heavy interest from Oklahoma City, San Antonio and New York, as well as the Lakers. He is considered to be a far better passer than Boozer, likely to thrive with Noah in the Bulls’ ball movement. He possesses great offensive skills overall, playing a finesse game that might hold up better to the ravages of time and mileage than someone who relies on explosiveness or vertical leap.
Gasol definitely is a quieter type than Boozer, which might or might not serve him well with United Center fans, depending on his early Bulls’ performances. (Boozer’s vocal exuberance has become the butt of jokes in Chicagoland.) But Boozer has been more durable of late, missing 32 games the past four seasons compared to Gasol’s 56.
Gasol’s decision to sign with Chicago was greeted with excitement on multiple fronts, including Noah and Gasol’s old coach in Los Angeles, Phil Jackson.
Gathol!!!!!! Big day for Chicago bulls!! Welcome to the windy city!!!
— Joakim Noah (@JoakimNoah) July 13, 2014
pic.twitter.com/89vU2xMLB5 when Pau announced he was going to Chicago Bulls
— Phil Jackson (@PhilJackson11) July 13, 2014
Gasol’s signing, however, could limit Chicago in what it can do financially on a couple other fronts. Money will be tighter now to spring stashed Euro star Nikola Mirotic and to upgrade their wing scoring.
Speaking of money, some might give the Bulls’ generally tight-fisted management some credit for being willing to swallow Boozer’s salary – amnesty only gets him off the cap, not the books for 2014-15 – for whatever marginal improvement Gasol brings. That’s a bold but not necessarily prudent move.
Even in his least productive Chicago season in 2013-14, Boozer was good for nearly 14 points, eight rebounds and 28 minutes. He’ll no doubt find work, and he’ll be double-dipping from both the Bulls and his new team’s payroll.
It would have been a tough sell to bring Boozer back, without some splashy signing or trade to provide cover and flip the organization’s script. It remains to be seen whether Gasol can help enough to flip it.