CHICAGO – It is a measure of Carlos Boozer‘s reputation 12 years into his NBA career that, with his acquisition by the Los Angeles Lakers Thursday, both the Lakers-are-tanking and the Lakers-aren’t-tanking crowds felt like winners.
Such is the polarizing game and persona of Boozer, a former All-Star power forward and the Chicago Bulls’ expensive discard.
On the floor, Boozer’s production last season (17.5 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists per 36 minutes) dropped off modestly from his career numbers (18.8, 11.0, 2.6 per 36). His decline was most noticeable in shooting – he’s a career .523 shooter who fell to .456 in 2013-14 – and in a player-efficiency rating (14.4) that was the worst of his career. His minutes were down as well (from 32.2 as recently as 2012-13 to 28.2) largely due to his defense; Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau preferred to have Boozer sitting on the bench near him in many fourth quarters last season.
Still, Boozer was a decent offensive option with his high-arcing jump shots and slick work from both sides of the rim. And he was durable, no small asset on a Chicago team beset again with injuries.
But the folks at United Center didn’t much care about the fine points. They held Boozer accountable for who he wasn’t and what he got paid in spite of that. He came to Chicago in the summer of 2010, when the Bulls cleared cap space for stars such as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Joe Johnson, only to settle for and spend on Boozer.
His impact never was quite good enough (despite four trips to the playoffs), given his contract (five years, $75 million).
Also, his boisterous ways and his Teflon demeanor – Boozer seemed too much the prototype professional athlete to many, a clock-puncher unfazed by losses or setbacks – chafed in a sports town that can smell paper tigers. Let’s just say that talk about amnestying Boozer began as soon as the clause was put into the collective bargaining agreement in November 2011 – before Boozer’s second Bulls season.
This was typical of the fan perception of Boozer, expressed by a Chicago sports talk-show host on The Score 670AM:
In honor of Boozer, I will pretend to move my feet to help with my child’s bedtime tonight, but merely swat at the diaper table and scream.
— Matt Spiegel (@MattSpiegel670) July 15, 2014
So a good-riddance vibe carried the day in Chicago when Boozer was cut free this week, the Bulls on the hook to pay his $16.8 million salary for this season but freeing up the cap space to sign Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic. That had fans in Lakerland wondering what they had just landed.
Teams with cap space could bid on Boozer, and the Lakers won his amnesty-waivers right with a bid reported to be $3.25 million. That offsets what the Bulls owe him. But it doesn’t do anything about the logjam at power forward, with the 27-55 Lakers drafting Julius Randle, re-signing Jordan Hill and acquiring Ed Davis.
It smacks of window dressing for a team that got snubbed by Carmelo Anthony and had little else to show for free agency’s big names this offseason. In that way, even if it required the amnesty process to deliver him, it felt a little like 2010 again.
Except of course Boozer is four years older and the Lakers can’t legitimately target the conference finals the way Chicago did in his first season there.
One way for Lakers fans to look at it is that they traded Gasol for Boozer, and the Bulls have to pay most of the combined salaries. That might not make them feel any better, either.