Independence is more than just a day

Carlos, Cece and family on their pier behind their house in Salt Lake City, oh wait, this looks like some place in Florida now that I think of it...

First of all, now that I'm done my half of the BBQ prep, Happy 4th of July everyone. We all celebrate this day in a variety of ways, and have a variety of opinions on what is the best way to do it. Furthermore, we all may even differ on what is the most important aspect of this day. Some feel like we must be solemn and remember those who make sacrifices for the freedoms that we (apparently) have. Others feel like this is an occasion to fire up the grill and share a brew with friends. I'm not the arbiter on just what one should or should not think, feel or do on this day. (After all, I was born in Canada) Our varied opinions all lead back to the main concepts of this day: Independence and freedom. We are free to think and do what we will, and can behave independently from anyone else. Just because your neighbor starts the day off with the pledge doesn't mean you have to, and vice versa.

Not surprisingly the central themes of independence and freedom hold for more than just one day, or for one nation. The overt microcosm of this day can be seen in NBA Free Agency. Carlos Boozer is an unrestricted free agent. By the rules, he owes the Jazz nothing. Similarly, the Jazz brass do not owe him anything either. He's allowed to make an independent decision, without concern for our team going forward. And can be free of him (his good and his bad) and his significant contract demands. (Reported to be in the $14 million to max range for 6 years)

As far as the situation goes, this can be win-win for both parties, even without a sign and trade. What better way to celebrate independence day?

This is my opinion, but it's an opinion that I've formed over pouring over statistics, building frames of reference (how else can one make comparisons?), and good old fashioned biases. (scroll down) It may not be popular with the entire fan base but I vehemently believe that Carlos Boozer is not integral to our future success as a franchise.

He's a superb player when his shot is falling and he is moving well. He's a multiple time All-Star (at forward in the Western Conference, no doubt), has been on All-NBA Teams, and even represented the United States in a variety of international competitions - even winning Gold last time he was selected. This very special power forward is more than just a double-double waiting to happen. He's also the 2nd round pick who worked his way into a house hold name. How can you not love this guy?

Premise 1: Carlos Boozer is not as good as we may be led to believe

Surely you can see that he has had a very celebrated career with all the awards he has won. By this method one cannot protest at comparing him to another Utah Jazz power forward who has played in the same system under the exact same coach, right? Karl Malone has also been an All-Star a number of times, been on All-NBA Teams, represented the United States in international tournaments and was a double double waiting to happen. You can't honestly admit that this is an unfair comparison when they have essentially achieved the same in their basketball careers.

They even played with an All-NBA point guard and a number of other players who could never challenge Karl and Carlos' stature as the first and secondoptions inside. If you find the results of the following comparison not to your liking, and still insist that they should not be compared to one another you may be constrained by an acute incidence of cognitive dissonance.

Carlos Boozer has made significant impacts on our team, for the better on offense and for the worse on defense, over the past few seasons. Since Deron Williams came into the fold Carlos has spent the last 4 years being 'the man' for the Jazz in much the same way that Karl Malone was the demonstrative lead for his clubs. Boozer has had some really good seasons between the age range of 24-28 (NBA Seasons 2005-2006 till today, 2009-2010). They were clearly better than his Cleveland days. Let's just look at those 4 seasons vs. Karl's 4 years from age 24 till age 28.

Both players are solid players. But Boozer's best attributes for our team (scoring and rebounding) don't look so hot compared to Malone's numbers for the same age range, with the same team. Some people may point to pace, but if you eliminate pace (as my Go Rating does) you see that Boozer's 95.087 (regular season) exists a few standard deviations away from Malone's EPIC 173.216 Go Rating. [Click on that link if you wish to learn more about what that rating means]

The numbers really speak for themselves, even in the playoffs where Malone has been much maligned, he averaged 29 ppg and 12 rpg. Boozer's 21 and 12 look average by comparison (how many close playoff games have we lost with Boozer? 8 points is big), without even bringing up the fact that Karl was also getting 2.3 spg and 1 bpg in the playoffs while Boozer . . . well . . . let's not even bring up defense. I'm particularly drawn to the shooting worth difference. Karl's shooting worth was still near 1.4 in the playoffs, while Boozer became significantly less stellar with a barely (by one hundredth point) above average with 1.23. Couple that with the fact that Malone went to the line a little less than 11 times a game in the regular season and over 11 times in the playoffs -- while Boozer manages less than half of that -- makes this a near clean sweep for Malone. (And remember kids, getting to the line is more than just getting a chance to put points on the board with the clock stopped, but also puts the other team's bigs into potential foul trouble. 11 FTA is at least 5 different fouls. Didn't Gasol finish a few games against the Jazz with only 1 foul?)

But . . . I can here it coming. "Thou shant never everest compare Lord Boozer to Karl Malone, even thou Boozer plays the same position, is the same size, scores in similar ways, plays crunch time minutes and gets the ball whenever he wants." Fine.

2. Carlos Boozer at age 24 does not look any better than Paul Millsap does at the same age (which is how old he is now)

Carlos Boozer on the Jazz was a starter and did not have a Paul Millsap on the team. Paul Millsap only starts when Boozer is injured (which, btw, is 22 times a season on average from the age range of 24-28), and has a guy playing in front of him. Yet . . . the differences between the two become even smaller when you bump up Millsap's minutes. (For example, Boozer averaged 31.061 mpg at age 24, Millsap got only 27.768. In the Playoffs Millsap averaged 32.300 mpg at age 24.) Take a look for yourselves:

First of all, Boozer did not play in the playoffs when he was 24 years old. Why? Because he happens to get into some freak injuries that never heal (hammy? what about the quad that died after he got an uncontested defensive rebound in Milwaukee a few years back?). But we'll get to that later. Millsap's playoff averages blow Boozer's stats for that season out of the water. What impresses me is that Millsap is super efficient (Shooting Worth of 1.47 !!!), and is head and shoulders over Boozer in the Steals, Blocks (by over 1 bpg better), Defensive Gambling and Pure Hustle.

Who do you think has more upside? The 28 year old guy who didn't play defense 4 years ago and since then has had a number of serious injuries -- or the less polished guy who gets better every year? Not only does Boozer look bad compared to Malone, but he doesn't look any better than Millsap. Perhaps a major component to their relative success happens to be the same system? Hmmm? (Such that Boozer's numbers are inflated and if he played elsewhere he wouldn't look nearly as good)

3. You don't get homecourtin the playoffs when your best or second best player only plays 60/82 games a year

Karl Malone played in 407/410 games between the ages of 24 and 28. That's 99.27%. He missed 3 games over that span due to suspensions. Paul Millsap does not have a playing range between 24 and 28, but he has a range of 21 to 24 (one less season). In that time he's played in 322/328 total games. That's an average of 80.5 games out of an 82 game schedule a year (98.17%). Carlos Boozer has played in 303/410 games between the age range of 24-28. That's only playing in 73.9% of the games, with a previously mentioned 60/82 games a season. Which one of these three looks like the odd one out?

How many times in the last few seasons have the Jazz had to win something like 7 out of 9 games to finish the season with homecourt? By the same token, how many Midwest Division banners hang in the ESA that Stockton and Malone won by playing in all the games, and winning enough to stave off powerhouses like Houston, San Antonio and others? This is a big deal. Sure, we can't expect guys to be as good and healthy as John and Karl -- but Millsap seems to be right up there, while Boozer is clearly not.

Call me crazy, but I think homecourt is important. Especially when we aren't so hot on the road.

4. Even if all the other GMs have gone crazy, playing like a 36 year old Karl Malone when you are 8 years younger shouldn't get you $14 million a season

Have you ever really looked at Karl's body of work? Even though Duncan has rings, Karl is the best ever. He's a hard act to follow. Especially when you notice that the first time he made more than $6 million in a season was in 1999-2000 AFTER leading his team to two NBA Finals, 5 Western Conference Finals in 7 seasons and 2 MVP awards. That was when Karl went up from $6 million a season to $14 million. Money is spent much more freely right now, but Boozer has "earned" $11 million (or more) a season for the last 5 years in Utah. This last season he made $13.5 million. He wants a raise.

That would be fine if he was going to appreciably raise his game as well, but I don't see it happening. Some would suggest that he actually peaked in 2007-2008. I don't think it's a good financial move to pay a guy "Karl Malone Made Man" money for him to play 60 games a year and eventually give less and less returns as he gets older and continues to get injured.

Have you even looked at the financial markets? It affects the NBA as well. The Salary Cap is decreasing, and there'sgoing to be a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that takes that into account. Boozer doesn't just want a raise, but wants Max money for the max time (6 years). I can't justify that kind of commitment, especially not when you look at our Jazz Roster Salary situation.

By the way, when Karl did make $14 million a season he was a 36 year old who led his team to a good record while giving the business to other power forwards from coast to coast (25.5 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 3.7 apg, 1 spg and bpg, 9.0 ft attempts per game while shooting 80 fg% -- and he played more MPG than Boozer does now and played in every game and 10 more games in the playoffs). Of course, $14 million doesn't go as far as it used to anymore . . .

5. Defense?

You're not going to advance when you make Lamar Odom look like Elgin Baylor, and you make Pau Gasol look like Kareem. I'm not suggesting that Malone or Millsap could have derailed the Lakers this past season. But I will suggest that Boozer's defense did not necessarily hamper the Lakers at all. Boozer has a very polished offensive game (that is significantly less productive than Malones, or even Millsap at a similar age), and paired with a big defensive force would be more than enough to help us win games. Unfortunately Kosta Koufos and Kyrylo Fesenko will never be Mark Eaton and Greg Ostertag. I don't want to harp on this, but Boozer's defense does not make up for his offense. (82game.com will tell you that much)

In order to keep Boozer (which costs a lot) and keep him useful (pair him up with a defensive big who is at least 7'), you have to actually go out there and get other players. So Boozer is only really good for us going forward if we prop him up with other guys. A conditional superstar is not what we need. Not only does it make Boozer's true cost that much more (how much does a defensive big cost? At least $8 mill a season, right? They are rare.), but it means finding one of these elusive beasts is next on the agenda for our slow moving front office.

It'salmost easier to find a scoring big while supplementing the PF defense with guys who are fundamentally more sound there (Millsap, Kirilenko). The Lakers play defense. The Celtics play defense. The Magic play defense. These are all the teams that have been in the NBA Finals the last few seasons.

Defense is not a passing fad.

Boozer seemed like he could be great on defense back in Cleveland (look at his bpg average then!), but it seems like a fad for him here. He'll play hard on defense a few times during the season, but not keep it up.

Again, defense is not a passing fad. We're not going to go far if we commit so much money to Boozer, and not have enough to lure a solid defensive big to pair him up with.

6. Independence

Carlos Boozer, according to Fesenko, is "the nicest man I know." They means that Boozer, aside from what most of us think of him, is a really nice guy -- or that Fesenko was abused every day of his life growing up as a child. By like people wearing clown make up.

I'm an optimist, so I'm thinking that Boozer is actually a nice guy in real life. He wants professional security with a 6 year contract and he wants a raise. It's the natural process of life, he has a Gold Medal, he's been an All-Star a number of times, he has a whole heap of kids to pay for. The economics of the 90's is nothing like what we have 20 years later. Maybe $14 million today is what $6 million was back then? I don't know. I think that he should be free to make the best choice for him.

If that means getting his personal goals ahead of team goals, then so be it.

We can't expect our stars to play here forever, and play under market value (like John and Karl did). We should begin to move beyond those old values, because those old values no longer exist in the current professional sports era.

I actually like him, and cheer for him. I see his flaws too, and I see the problem he creates.

In a perfect world the Jazz will not have a gun to their heads and feel pressured into giving this guy the max deal he wants. That would financially ruin our cap situation, which the Jazz brass should endeavor to keep flexible on the eve of a new collective bargaining agreement. (No one really knows what will come of it)

Whatever happens will be what we all have to live with, but I think that Carlos Boozer is not essential, nor is he integral to our team going forward. He does a few things well, but hardly great. Even his understudy appears to be quite capable, and reliable, and he's already under contract.

Sure, his loss will immediately make the Jazz a worse team on paper. But in the long run, who is to say? After all, the Jazz did make room for Malone's expanded role in the team by parting ways with Adrian Dantley. (a great post scorer who did not play defense, and was too short to really bang with the big boys)

Maybe Boozer is our new Dantley, and not our new Malone?

We're all free to have our own opinions of this matter, it is, after all, independence day.

Happy Independence Day.

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