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With Boozer's push, Jazz climbing in West

Marc J. Spears
Yahoo Sports
With Boozer's push, Jazz climbing in West
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Carlos Boozer will join Chris Bosh and Amar'e Stoudemire as the top free-agent power forwards

The NBA’s trade deadline was minutes from passing when Carlos Boozer’s(notes) cell phone started buzzing. He sat on the Utah Jazz’s bus, headed to New Orleans International Airport and who-knew-where-else as the text messages and calls streamed.

There had been reports the Jazz were talking to the Miami Heat about a deal involving Boozer, so the reaction was understandable. Boozer lives in Miami in the offseason, and his friends in Florida were excited about the possibility of him playing for the Heat. His Utah friends were nervous.

Boozer did get a surprise once the bus arrived at the airport, but it didn’t involve him: teammate Ronnie Brewer(notes) was told he had been traded to the Memphis Grizzlies. By the time the Jazz’s charter flight departed, Boozer was fairly confident he hadn’t been traded. Still, it wasn’t until the plane actually landed in California that he knew he’d be staying with the Jazz for the rest of the season.

“It got close,” Boozer said. “That’s all I heard. My homies in Miami were crossing their fingers. My homies in Salt Lake were crossing their fingers.

“But it was nothing I was going to worry about. If they were going to make the move, they were going to make the move. If they weren’t, they weren’t. They didn’t. I’m happy to still be here.”

Boozer’s teammates should be glad he’s still there, too. The Jazz have won 17 of their past 19 games, with their most remarkable victory coming late Sunday when they roared back from a 25-point second-half deficit to beat the Portland Trail Blazers on the road in overtime. Boozer totaled 22 points and a career-high 23 rebounds in the game, and it was his difficult follow shot at the buzzer – that he somehow banked in with Blazers’ center Marcus Camby(notes) lunging at him – that forced OT.

Boozer has also enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career, averaging 19.4 points and 11.2 rebounds. Often injured in the past – he missed at least 30 games in three of his first five seasons with the Jazz – he has played in all but three games this season.

“Winning,” Boozer said, “cures everything.”

Boozer’s relationship with the Jazz’s fervent fan base also needed some mending. A year ago, he publicly declared his intention to opt out his contract and test the free-agent market. His comments didn’t go over well in Utah considering the Jazz were struggling and he was sidelined with an injury. Boozer ultimately changed his mind after recognizing he likely wouldn’t get much of a bump from his $12.7 million salary, but he then publicly announced the Jazz and his agent were working together to trade him to another team. That, too, didn’t endear him to the Jazz.

Team officials stayed quiet, but it said enough that Boozer wasn’t included in the franchise’s “Be the X-Factor” marketing campaign. His jerseys also began showing up on the discount rack. During training camp, Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said he was even considering bringing Boozer off the bench in favor of Paul Millsap(notes), who had just signed a contract extension with the team.

“We are starting all over,” Sloan told Yahoo! Sports in October. "Boozer has one year on his contract; Millsap is probably going to be here [in the future]. We just have to try to make the best decision to give us a chance to win, that’s all. That’s all I’m looking for.”

As it turned out, Sloan decided to keep Boozer in the starting lineup. Utah’s tough-love coach has also continued to back Boozer – both publicly and within the franchise. With the Jazz struggling early in the season and facing a large luxury-tax bill, Sloan told team officials he wanted to keep Boozer, if at all possible.

“He’s always been fair to me,” Sloan said of Boozer. “He always tried to respond in a positive way. There was nothing he could do when he got hurt. A lot of people tried to make a big deal about how he got hurt a couple of times. Injuries are something none of us have control over. I’ve never asked a player to play hurt. I’ll ask him if they’re banged up a little bit, and he’s always responded to that.

“When the season started, we sat down and talked about it. I said, ‘I’m here to coach. You’re here to play. We’ll do the best we can and see what happens.’ It’s as simple as that. He’s played extremely well and I’m proud how he’s handled the situation he’s been in.”

Said Boozer: “I love coach Sloan. He gave me a huge opportunity to grow under him. I wouldn’t be around without him.”

While Boozer stayed with Utah past the trade deadline, many of the Jazz were upset that Brewer didn’t. Utah sent him to the Grizzlies for a first-round pick. Brewer was told of the trade when he arrived at the Jazz’s charter plane in New Orleans and was re-routed onto a commercial jet to Memphis.

Utah had already sent talented rookie guard Eric Maynor(notes) and injured forward Matt Harpring(notes) to Oklahoma City in another trade earlier in the season. The two deals will save Utah about $10.5 million in salary and tax payments. Deron Williams(notes), the Jazz’s All-Star point guard, strongly criticized Brewer’s trade.

"You look at all the teams that are getting better around the West and we essentially get worse, if you ask me," Williams told Utah reporters. He also indicated that Utah’s bottom-line focus was a reason why he passed on a five-year extension with the Jazz for a deal that allows him to become a free agent after the 2011-12 season.

Boozer also wasn’t happy about the trade of Brewer, who he describes as one of his “best friends.”

“Losing Brew was terrible,” Boozer said. “I can’t stress that enough. He was a friend to a lot of us here. He was obviously a huge part of our team. It was tough to move on.”

Come this summer, Williams and the remaining Jazz could be saying the same about Boozer. Boozer will be one of the top free agents in a class that also could include a couple other talented forwards in Chris Bosh(notes) and Amar’e Stoudemire(notes).

There is a good reason why Boozer took the trade deadline in stride. He knows he won’t be lacking for options this summer, and the Heat and Chicago Bulls are among several teams that will have plenty of salary-cap room to sign him.

Boozer says he will consider any offer by Utah “heavily.”

“It will be a huge priority to see what the Jazz do, see the other options and go from there,” Boozer said. “I’m not going to worry about it right now.

“I don’t know what [the Jazz are] going to do. I’m not going to speculate. I’m going to wait to see what’s presented and make a great decision.”

For now, Boozer said he’s focused only on trying to help the Jazz win a championship. Utah’s month-long run has lifted it within a half-game of the Western Conference’s No. 2 seed. And after Sunday’s stunning victory, Boozer’s cell phone was likely buzzing again.

This time with congratulations.

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