Carlos Boozer could be entering his final season with the Chicago Bulls. His contract runs through 2014-15, but the notoriously luxury tax-averse Bulls still own the rights to their one-time use of the amnesty clause, and there is talk that the Bulls would use it to snip the last year of Boozer’s contract in order to clear payroll and (less likely) go after another big free agent next summer.
All that falls on what is bound to be another divisive season for Bulls fans, as they watch the team’s lone consistent low-post scorer do tough battle inside while at times anchoring the team’s defense (don’t laugh) with his much-needed defensive rebounding. They’ll also watch way too many weak-side defensive whiffs from Boozer, if the pattern holds up, and too many games where his offense will just refuse to check in.
Luckily for his senses, Boozer doesn’t seem to mind the criticism – both past, present (the Bulls play at home on Friday) and future. Outwardly, at least. From the Chicago Sun-Times:
Sociology was his major at Duke, but he minored in “not giving a dang what you think about me.’’
“You’re either loved or hated playing Duke basketball,’’ Boozer said. “I’ve been at the highest level of basketball at every level, and going to Duke, you learn that right away. It isn’t like there are fans that kind of like you.
“I think I got a lot of my thick skin from being a Duke basketball player. Even when you come to the NBA, a lot of players wanted to be recruited by Duke who weren’t or we may have beaten them to win a championship or go to the tournament, whatever, and it carries over to the NBA.’’
It’s strange to say, especially in today’s Deadspin-driven, hyper-diligent, “52 Reasons You Should Hate This Team”-culture, but Duke was probably more universally despised in the relatively nascent internet days of Boozer’s time in Duke, as opposed to currently. That era, which at times featured Shane Battier, Boozer, Chris Duhon, Jay Williams and current Boozer teammate Mike Dunleavy Jr. just lived under people’s skin. And the ACC chants were merciless.
Bulls fans don’t chant as hard, unless you count message board rants, because most do genuinely value what Boozer brings. He may disappear at times, but Chicago has long struggled to score with or without Derrick Rose on the floor (that top six turn during the lockout season almost seems like a fluke), and every little bit from Boozer helps. And though coach Tom Thibodeau often replaces Boozer with Taj Gibson late in games for defensive reasons, he is often quick to point out how much value Boozer’s stout defensive rebounding has in a defense that is often left recovering as Joakim Noah pins down on the pick and roll.
It is Gibson’s presence (beginning a contract that will pay him $33 million over the next four seasons) that makes Boozer somewhat expendable after this season ends. It’s true that Chicago could have double-figures worth of cap space if the team cuts Boozer and lets Luol Deng walk, but these are the Bulls we’re talking about, and they’re more likely to use that space to dink and doink and fill out the roster instead of shooting for another highly-paid star.
(The Sun-Times piece also quotes a “source,” not sure if it’s Chicago-related or not, as saying that it’s “completely inaccurate” to assume that the Bulls will pass on the chance to not have to litter up their cap figures with Boozer’s $16.8 million next season. In a way, because the Bulls are so cheap, it makes sense. The Bulls would be paying Boozer to go away, and then paying his replacement on top of that. That approach would probably help Chicago field a better team, but the Bulls’ ownership hasn’t always made this a priority, especially when such attempts clash with payroll matters.)
To hear Boozer tell it, he doesn’t care what direction the fans want the front office to go in. Which is good, we suppose, but only if the points and rebounds hold up, and the skin stays thick. Duke-level, thick.
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