Boozer, And Why He's An Ex-Jazzster

Yeah, its me again. So expect a lot of words and very few numbers. Because that's how I roll. I did throw in a picture at the beginning so you know what the post is about...

In the past couple of days, Carlos Boozer talk has been all over this blog (and many other places). For good reason of course, considering that the Carlos Boozer Era has come to an end in Utah, as he heads over to Chicago. In return, the Jazz are getting a super big trade exception (irrelevant, but I wonder if the Jazz tried to get like Taj Gibson or James Johnson or someone in return?).

Back to the blog, there are those that think we'll see a huge drop-off with him gone (I think they're over-exaggerating the drop-off we'll see). There are those that think it's not much of a loss at all (I think they're too confident in our current big-man rotation). There was a statistical breakdown to show us that the drop-off between Boozer and Sap shouldn't be too bad (its the rest of the rotation that worries me). There's been talk of the trade exception and what we can do with it. There was a look at the positions of need now, with the off-season under ways and guys getting signed. There were looks to the (near) future. There was a look to what Boozer was taking with him, and even glimpses back at the Boozer era. It's all been said, in recent days no less.

My view on Boozer has probably been made clear on this blog, many times over. A quick re-hash... I'm sick of the status quo. And Boozer's injuries. And his lack of defense. That said... No, losing Boozer doesn't make us a better team. But we've also seen that with the Boozer/Okur front-court, it'd take a lot of luck to get past the 2nd round of the playoffs. While making the playoffs is great, its a disappointment to see the team fall short every year. I know what it feels like to root for a team that never wins, but thinking the Jazz are going to fall to that level is just absurd. The goal is to win a championship, not lose in the 2nd round every year. Sure, you might have a losing season or 2. But if it helps you get the piece you need to win it all (Spurs with Duncan, Celtics with the players to trade for Garnett, etc), then its not so bad. I'm not saying the Jazz should intentionally tank, but should the worst case scenario play out, the Jazz could still make it work. I don't see that happening, of course. We'll still be competitive.

Could Boozer have helped with this championship goal? Undoubtedly. So why let him go?

Well... him helping the Jazz reach the goal required 2 things. First, he had to remain healthy. We all know how risky this was to bet on. And second, he needed a defensively solid big around him. Mark Eaton. Greg Ostertag. ... Joakim Noah. Fine. Mehmet Okur, though, is not that guy. Nor is anyone else the Jazz have put around him... at least not yet (referring to Koufosenko). Putting such a big around him masks his defensive deficiencies, and allows him to dominate offensively without giving everything right back up defensively. (Unfortunately for us... the same can be said of Okur.)

A lot has been made of Boozer's defensive issues, and rightfully so. He struggled to stop guys in the paint, he struggled to keep his guy from going off on the Jazz, he didn't block shots, etc. (Don't overlook his presence on the boards though.) It didn't help him at all that a hustle guy in Paul Millsap played behind him. Millsap gave the Jazz fans a glimpse of a "big" that tried on D, making Boozer's seeming lack of effort even more apparent and, at times, even more frustrating.

That said, lets not discount Boozer's offensive game. Sure, if given minutes Millsap might match his average, but its not exactly the same. Millsap has mostly been scoring off of offensive rebounds, broken plays, etc. The Jazz ran their offense through Boozer, something I don't think they can do as efficiently with Millsap (yet). Jumpers from the elbow. The drives. The low-post game. The pick-and-roll. The double-teams leading to good looks for CJ, Wes, Korver & Deron. Boozer was an offensive beast, and a key-cog for the Jazz on that end of the court. That will be missed. Millsap doesn't have that yet... he's not going to command as many double-teams, he's not as good of a jump-shooter yet, and while his low-post game might be good, its not like Boozer's. Don't get me wrong... I love Millsap as much as the next guy. While he definitely brings more hustle and effort on defense, hie's not the same offensive threat, and the Jazz will have to adapt to that loss.

Going back to the question earlier then... why did Boozer leave? For all his defensive struggles, he's a top-5 PF in the NBA offensively. How did the Jazz just let him go (fine, trade him for an exception, whatever)? Why didn't they keep him around?

While injuries and all that were annoying, the real reason started last season. Millsap was a RFA; Okur and Boozer could've opted out. They didn't, the Jazz matched the offer to Millsap, and you knew someone would have to leave. Throw in a contract extension for Okur, and it seemed certain that, barring a trade, it was going to take a lot of magic for Boozer to stick around. There might've been an opportunity for the Jazz to trade Millsap or Okur or Andrei Kirilenko during the season, but nothing impressed KOC if it showed up, so nothing happened during the season. That left this off-season.

Okur's injured and potentially out till January, making him more-or-less untradeable. Millsap is a cheaper option than Booze... he has similar stats offensively, and shows up defensively. Andrei Kirilenko could've been traded if you can find a taker, but either no one is interested, or the Jazz didn't like the offers they got. That left Boozer as the odd-man out. Someone had to go, and he was just in the worst position given last summer's events. Throw in seemingly high money demands ($16 million/year is way too much... though I guess it fits with all the overpaying going on this summer) and the Jazz not wanting to pay the luxury tax, and it seemed very likely that Booze was done. This was just confirmed when the Jazz didn't even match the offer the Bulls gave Boozer... as if they had accepted that he wouldn't be back.

And you have to think fan perception played a role. Not a big one, mind you, but given that you're trying to draw in the fans, you don't want to piss off your fan-base. And it seems that the most vocal Jazz fans were calling for a change (at least based on what I've seen/read/heard). Okur was a favorite... his 3-point shooting (clutch at times) and the "Money" nickname bestowed upon him were highly loved by fans. Millsap showed hustle and determination that Boozer didn't, was always healthy, and even hailed from the same school as one Karl Malone. As for Boozer? Sure, he was one of the better PFs in the league, and one of the best down in the low-post offensively. But that's not what the fans saw. What they saw was... a lack of effort defensively. Many games missed due to seemingly minor injuries (and his predictions for when he'd be back all being wrong). Constantly getting blocked, especially by the Lakers' bigs in the playoffs. His "I'm opting out" declaration during the season, after a big win by a decimated Jazz team. His interviews with various cities last season, expressing a desire to play with that team. As fans of a team that is so high on loyalty, seeing this from Boozer really didn't go over very well.

Now that he is gone, the Jazz are left with a big-man rotation (to start the season) of Millsap, Kosta Koufos, and... AK? Yeah, its ugly. Kyrylo Fesenko might be resigned, but that's like trying to use a band-aid to stop the bleeding after having your leg hacked off by an axe. They still need to find a big who is actually big, and can play. Koufos has impressed in the summer league, but then... he also impressed when called on to start (was it last season, or the season before?) for a short stretch, and in the D-League. But most of the time, if you give him minutes, he struggles. Fesenko plays a bit better defensively, but would also rather look at cheerleaders than listen to Jerry Sloan during time-outs. That said, if using the summer league... Rod Benson and Jermareo Davidson have impressed (me, at least), and James Augustine had an impressive first game. We also need someone to back-up Millsap, given that Millsap is now the starter. AK could be that guy, as could Jeremy Evans. But that is currently undecided.

Boozer, meanwhile, wins. He goes from 1 elite PG (Deron) to another (Rose). He gets a highly regarded defensive mind (Thibodeau) as a coach (this is not meant to be a slight on Sloan in any way), and will finally be alongside a defensive presence in Noah (this is meant to be a slight on the Jazz front-office and their constant ignoring of such a big need). That last point could be huge... the offensive game will be there (if the coaching staff there has any brains at all), but masking his defensive shortcomings will make him that much better. That is something the Jazz never had around him (inexplicable in my mind, even given the presence of Okur), and that was a mistake. So yeah, I wouldn't be surprised if Boozer looks even better this season (provided he stays healthy). Its not going to show the Jazz that they were stupid to let him go (even if fans spin it that way)... its going to show us all that the Jazz were dumb for never finding that guy to put next to Boozer. Maybe we still have time to find that guy to put next to Millsap? Because for all his hustle/intensity, he's not going to stop by Pau Gasol & Andrew Bynum every time down the court.

For now, the Jazz look poised to suffer a bit this season. You don't just trade a top-5 PF for a trade exception and not feel the blow. But with 3 trade exceptions (the first one expires in December, so this is the time to use it) and potentially AK's expiring contract, you have to hope the Jazz find the right big to play alongside Millsap. Until then, the drop from Boozer to Millsap means nothing, because that's not what's hurting the Jazz. Best of luck to Boozer (except when he's playing the Jazz), but given the circumstances that played out over the past 2 seasons, it was time to move on.

*= No, Jazzster probably isn't the right term. But I like using it, so I used it.

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