How that translates to the basketball court will be determined Saturday when Boozer and his Utah Jazz teammates face the first-place Cavaliers for the first time since his exit.
Boozer spent his first two seasons with the Cavaliers and averaged 12.6 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. After the arrival of megastar LeBron James, Cleveland figured to have a potent combination for years to come with the two youngsters.
However, Boozer’s tenure with the Cavs ended unpleasantly when he signed an offer sheet with the Jazz on July 14. Cleveland officials said, and have maintained, there was an agreement when the Cavs didn’t pick up the contract option—a mere $700,000 for a player who averaged 15.5 points and 11.4 rebounds in his second season—that he would be staying in Cleveland.
Boozer maintained he never promised to stay with Cleveland. When the Jazz offered a $68 million, six-year deal, the Cavaliers didn’t have the money or desire to match the offer after a bitter feud with the power forward.
“There was no commitment. It’s unfortunate how the turn of events went through the media,” Boozer said shortly after signing the deal with Utah. “I’m not a guy that gives my word and takes it away. I think I’ve made that clear.”
Although Boozer leads the Jazz with 19.4 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, they are last in the Northwest Division and 13th in the Western Conference.
The biggest reason for Utah’s poor record is a knee injury sustained by All-Star forward Andrei Kirilenko, the team scoring and rebounding leader last season, that has sidelined him since Nov. 27.
Without their best all-around player, the Jazz endured a nine-game losing streak before posting surprising wins over San Antonio and Phoenix this week.
Utah, however, was unable to beat a third straight elite team on Thursday, losing at Sacramento 107-93.
Boozer had 15 points, nine rebounds and seven assists as the Jazz lost for the 10th time in 12 games.
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said Kirilenko won’t return until next week at the earliest.
“He hasn’t practiced on the floor,” Sloan said. “When there’s a question about him getting banged around, then he’s not ready until he gets on the floor and practices.”
Cleveland has done just fine without Boozer, occupying first place in the Central Division with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference.
After winning their first four games this month, the Cavaliers suffered their first loss of 2005 on Thursday, 98-94 to the Los Angeles Lakers.
James narrowly missed his first career triple-double with 28 points, a season-high 13 rebounds and nine assists.
While Boozer has a knowledge of his former teammates’ tendencies, Cavaliers assistant coach Kenny Natt spent the past nine seasons in the same capacity with the Jazz.
“I hope my knowledge of the Jazz is a plus for the guys,” Natt said. “I know what they’re doing and what that translates to. But we still have to go out and play. It’s not what another team does, it’s what we do as a team.”
Cleveland had lost 13 straight in Utah before James scored 29 points in a 102-96 overtime victory on Jan. 17, 2004.