Ball Don't Lie - NBA



Take it in a vacuum.

Take it away from the idea that this could be all Chicago gets from its free-agent turn and take away the idea that this move could have any impact on LeBron James(notes) (with tears in his eyes and logos to spare) choosing the Chicago Bulls as his next team to play for on basic cable Thursday night.

The Bulls have cap space. They need a big forward who can score in the paint, gather passes with ease, run the floor and hit the open jumper. Short of landing Amar'e Stoudemire(notes), they pulled in the best choice available. Eight years after passing him up to select Roger Mason(notes) Jr. in the second round of the 2002 NBA draft, the Bulls have agreed to terms with Carlos Boozer(notes).

For five years and $80 million dollars. Or $76 million. Or less, even, because it's early and numbers are still floating around. And the Bulls would still, dearly, like to land LeBron. And even if this is an $80 million contract, this team could still land LeBron James with a max deal tomorrow. The Bulls have just enough room to do so, assuming Boozer's deal starts around where you'd expect ($14 million for next season).

And if they can't land LeBron? As flighty as Boozer is, as often as he's injured, and as much of a letdown as the pie-in-the-sky best-case scenario would have run (some signed-and-traded triptych that would have included James, Chris Bosh(notes) and Dwyane Wade(notes)) round our heads, this is still a sound signing that hits right where the Bulls need it most. In the paint. With two hands.

With the cap working up toward about $58 million, Chicago still has room to move. Room to add depth through free-agent pickups or room to trade for whatever players the capped-out teams have lost use for. I'm not going to insult you by telling you the Bulls are better off losing LeBron James. Nobody is. But the fact remains that Chicago is better equipped to handle the three-part gutting/signing/building process than any other team.

Better than the Knicks, who don't really have any studs to build on, in spite of how you might overrate Danilo Gallinari(notes). Better than Miami, which hit a home run with the agreement that brings Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade to the Heat, but also has 11 roster spots to fill. The Bulls, even before Boozer gave his word to the team (and we know what that's worth), have four starters in place. Four good starters and close to $19 million to spend even after signing Boozer.

Why does Boozer fit? Because if he somehow turns his career arc around and gives the Bulls an average of 70 games per as a Carlos Boozer-type, he works as a garbage player gone good. He finishes broken plays. He can score in the triple-threat position, which is often more dangerous in this league than the low post because of the ability to get to the line or hit cutters. He can score the ball within 20 feet of the basket, something Chicago has been averse to since it traded Elton Brand(notes) in 2001.

He averaged 19.5 points and 11.2 rebounds last season, and I don't care what you think of the guy, that works. And he's nowhere near the sieve-like Zach Randolph(notes) on his way toward procuring those sorts of stats. Carlos Boozer can contribute to a win in a positive way. If that sounds simplistic, I apologize. But on the offensive end, he's helping.

On defense? Not so much. But if Tom Thibodeau's teams could hardly be ranked as sieve-like with Ryan Bowen(notes) or Leon Powe(notes) or Glen Davis(notes) working the undersized four (or at center, effectively, at times), then I hardly think Boozer will fall terribly short unless his effort completely falls off.

In the meantime, this deal works. Not as a lead-in to a bigger primetime show, but as a sound pairing on a team that has some holes to fill. Unless Boozer completely packs it in, Chicago scored a key helper.

What goes on from here is anyone's guess. Which is kind of the way LeBron likes it, I'm assuming.

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