As you all know, Carlos Boozer is a free agent this off-season. He's not the only free agent the Jazz have to worry about, but definitely the biggest of them. When Carlos Boozer is playing up to the level he's capable of playing at, he's a dominant force in the paint (offensively) and a key cog for the Jazz. When he's not feeling up to it, he's a black hole offensively that can put miss after miss... or end up injured. The Jazz, of course, are left trying to figure out which Carlos Boozer will show up more often if they give him a new contract... and if its worth chasing after.
Really, there are 2 potential outcomes here. Either Boozer stays with the Jazz or he doesn't. Its that simple. There are 3 potential ways this could play out though.
1- Boozer leaves as a free agent.
The Jazz just let the off-season play out. They make a weak run at Boozer, but just let him leave for an opponent. There are teams thought to have interest to varying degrees (Knicks, Nets, Bulls, Heat, the Mavericks did before, on and on)... and who wouldn't? When he's on, he's a 20-10 guy and a force offensively that many teams could use. The issue then becomes money, but that's for them to worry about. On the Jazz end, Boozer leaving opens up the money needed to sign the draft pick, resign Wes Matthews, Kyle Korver & Kyrylo Fesenko (if the Jazz want them back) and maybe even chase after a free-agent (not a star, obviously, but a player). On the other hand, it leaves them with 1 star less than before... and there's no way the Jazz can get another star player to come over as a free agent (no money is the biggest issue). Like him or not, Boozer's presence inside offensively (and his ability to make jumpers) is key for the pick-and-roll offense and he can't just be replaced with ease. There are free agents the Jazz could chase after... Hakim Warrick, Luis Scola (restricted), Craig Smith, Udonis Haslem, Kris Humphries (player option), Louis Amundson... but they're not going to replace Boozer's production. And expecting Millsap to be able to completely replace Boozer's production seems like a bit of a stretch... he's not as polished offensively (I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one cringing when he takes a jumper), and there are foul issues. So there will be a drop off at the spot. Throw in the loss of Okur for the early part of the season, and the Jazz offense could struggle. The question the Jazz have to ask is whether or not they can make up the offensive loss here at the other positions (or make it up by being better defensively).
Jazz interest level: Near 0. Even if you don't want him back, letting Boozer leave and getting nothing in return can't look like a good option for the Jazz.
Boozer interest level: Eh... He can pick where he goes, and he'll get paid well enough. But he could get paid more...
2- Boozer resigns with the Jazz.
The Jazz go after Boozer hard, making sure he doesn't leave. They offer him the money they feel is right, negotiate with him and sign him to a long deal (3+ years). Boozer loves the team and Salt Lake, and is willing to come back. This creates a potential future problem for the Jazz, but for now the biggest thing is that they've kept their 2nd best player (arguable, maybe, but whatever) around. With Okur out, you'll see the short line-up duo of Millsap and Boozer getting major minutes... which is potentially bad defensively against taller players, but the Jazz have been running the line-up out there for the past 2 seasons. When Okur comes back, you'll have 3 guys that will want to be starting and just 2 spots... creating a mess. At some point, it could blow up... 1 of the 3 will need out. If Boozer gets this new contract, and Okur has concerns now... the most likely candidate would be Millsap. Are the Jazz okay with that? Anyhow, that's immaterial. The Jazz believe they're close to being contenders (at least you have to hope they believe that... given how little they've done the last 2 seasons to change the team and how the continuity and development of young players should be making them better) and they're keeping a key piece around. You keep the Williams/Boozer duo, and build around them the best you can. This will work best if the Jazz can add a defensive-minded center (preferably 7-feet tall) to play alongside Boozer/Okur/Millsap at times (or, if Koufos or Fesenko is that guy... hopefully they get time) to help improve the defense, because the Boozer/Okur combo is a disaster defensively.
Jazz interest level: Moderate. The Jazz keep a great player around, but risk losing their other free agents and getting stuck scraping the bottom of the barrel to fill out the roster.
Boozer interest level: Very high or 0. Very high if he likes being with the Jazz, because he'll get paid the max he can. 0 if he doesn't like being with the Jazz (in which case, this won't happen).
3- Jazz work out a sign-and-trade.
The most complex of the 3 options. The Jazz don't want Boozer back (or he doesn't want to be back, whichever), but they don't want to lose him and get nothing in return. Boozer wants to be paid the most allowed by the league (which, since he plays for the Jazz right now, can only be given to him by the Jazz). So the 2 sides work together... Boozer & his agent find a team willing to trade for him (with the huge contract), the Jazz work out a trade with that team and then sign and trade Boozer. So... what do the Jazz look for in a trade. There are options here.
- A package of sidekick youngsters. The Jazz already have Deron Williams, so they're willing to take on a package of young/promising players who can fit in around what the Jazz already have... and maybe even develop into stars. If this ends up happening, ideally there is a good young big and a young wing included.
- Draft picks. The Jazz decide to build through the draft, taking on mostly draft picks and maybe an unwanted contract as well. This is really risky, because the draft is a crapshoot and results in a lot of rookies. At least the promising youngsters have some experience in the NBA (even if its only 1 season). But if you can land a number of picks (and go with the belief that quantity > quality), this is an option.
- A star for a star. The Jazz go out and try to get a star in return for Boozer. I don't have any real ideas right now, but I know that guys like Al Jefferson or Andre Iguodala could potentially be on the block. This could be a preferred option, simply because the Jazz don't suffer a huge drop-off (on paper, admittedly).
- Expiring contract. The Jazz are resigned to losing Boozer, but figure that adding a draft pick and an expiring contract is better than adding nothing. The draft pick can be used or traded, but the expiring contract is key here. The Jazz can let it expire after the season, creating some huge cap space or (ideally) trade it (and the player it comes with) before the deadline to a team looking to make space for the 2011 free agent class. Expiring contracts are highly valued in the league (see the Thunder trading for an already done Matt Harpring last season). There are options out there if the Jazz are looking.
Most likely, a trade would include a combination of the above. A list of potential expiring contract targets... Erick Dampier, Tayshaun Prince, Mike Dunleavy Jr, Troy Murphy, Zach Randolph and Samuel Dalembert. I'm not saying they're available, or even good fits on the Jazz. But they do have big contracts that come to an end after next season, and if the team they currently play for would rather have a star PF signed to a longer deal, Boozer could be their guy. As a fan of the draft, the picks would make for a fun off-season... but could also mean the Jazz get a group of busts, or players that won't see the court, or what-not. Youngsters is probably the ideal way to go... refill the roster with cheaper players that are still talented... but what could you get?
Now, below, I list a ton of names. This is all speculation... there is no reason to believe that the Jazz have considered any of these guys realistically. Again... pure speculation on my part. And I'm not really worried about whether the other team would accept the deal or not... I'm not going "out-of-my-mind-crazy" (Boozer for LeBron! mark it down!!!); just throwing names out there.
The Jazz don't need a deal built around a PG. That rules out a deal that would be centered around someone like Devin Harris or Maurice Williams. It seems unlikely that you'd be able to pry Brook Lopez from the Nets or Joakim Noah from the Bulls (though if you could, you have to jump on it, don't you?). Maybe Kevin Love from the Timberwolves, if they'd rather keep Jefferson (can Boozer & Jefferson co-exist?). Or Hibbert from the Pacers maybe? If you can't steal one of the bigs, then you'd have to look to the wings (where the Jazz have CJ, AK at times, and potentially Matthews). Would something packaged around Chris Douglas-Roberts, Courtney Lee and/or Terrence Williams entice the Jazz (obviously, not all 3 guys, but maybe 2 of them)? Nick Young and Al Thornton? Thaddeus Young & Jason Smith (though I'm sure if the Jazz are dealing with the Sixers, it'd be based around AK for Brand, not Boozer for their youngsters). Wilson Chandler from the Knicks? Daequan Cook/Mario Chalmers/Joel Anthony (not a wing, I admit... and Chalmers could help stabilize the back-up PG role)?
Jazz interest level: High. The Jazz don't lose Boozer for nothing... they get the best package they can in return. With what seems to be a considerably weaker bench heading into next season (Sap will be starting, Okur won't be around), adding talented depth is an easy decision if the opportunity presents itself.
Boozer interest level: High. Boozer gets his money, and gets to pick (to some extent, of course) where he plays next season. Of course, if he's dead-set on staying in Utah, he hates this option... but I don't think that's the case.
The Jazz have options with Boozer. I'm sure they're doing as much work as they can right now, and will do a lot more before a final decision is made. It won't be an easy decision... and there will be fans who hate the decision no matter what choice is made ("How could you resign him?", "How could you let a star leave for nothing?", "How did you not get Brook Lopez in the deal?"), but that's the nature of the beast. If he's leaving, sign-and-trade is ideal... but then you have to find a willing partner, and find players on their roster that you want. Not impossible, of course, but harder in some cases than others.
What will the Jazz do? Who knows? Which option do you prefer though?