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Sam Smith: Boozer worth the risk at the right price

Sam Smith has been coming around to thinking maybe the Bulls should take a shot and trade for Carlos Boozer. One reason is it is vital for the Bulls to make the playoffs this season, not only to carry forward on the momentum from last season's finish and the first round playoff series, but to make a more appealing case to free agents in the summer of 2010 the team is trending upward.
Sam Smith at Bulls.com

Carlos Boozer worth the risk
at the right price


The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Carlos Boozer "Given his own free agency situation, I am starting to think he could be a good risk for this season and provide an interior scoring option," writes Sam Smith. "He's an undersized power forward, so he isn't a classic post threat who'll get inside and power to the basket. But he can establish position and make a shot and runs a clever pick and roll." (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)

You don't hear a lot of nice things about Carlos Boozer in Salt Lake City. They say he's the guy who lied to a blind man (then Cavs owner Gordon Gund) to escape the Cavs and get a bigger contract with the Jazz. They say he won't play unless 100 percent healthy. They say you can count on him missing about most of every other season. They say he's an indifferent, and often disinterested, defender. And they say he's a locker room problem and a loner who is alienated from his teammates and fans.

He's been openly condemned by ownership for threatening to leave for more money while having missed almost half the games during a $68 million contract and making almost $12 million last season. The team committed to second round draft pick Paul Millsap and has been anxious to trade Boozer.

So, yes, I have been coming around to thinking maybe the Bulls should take a shot and trade for Boozer.

I think the odds of him landing with the Bulls are about 35 to 40 percent. That's totally my guess. Though I don't think you can have 35 percent of a guy.

One reason is I think it's vital for the Bulls to make the playoffs this season, not only to carry forward on the momentum from last season's finish and the first round playoff series, but to make a more appealing case to free agents in the summer of 2010 the team is trending upward.

I don't think Boozer is attractive enough a teammate to lure any other free agents. And I wouldn't sign him beyond this season. But given his own free agency situation, I am starting to think he could be a good risk for this season and provide an interior scoring option. He's an undersized power forward, so he isn't a classic post threat who'll get inside and power to the basket. But he can establish position and make a shot and runs a clever pick and roll. He's an offensive threat you have to guard, which is a better complement with center Joakim Noah, who is not a scorer. And with likely his last big payday ahead, maybe you do get his best for one season.

I do think several of the Eastern Conference non-playoff teams have improved and it's no sure thing the Bulls make the playoffs. I had them seventh last week in an analysis and I'll stick to that. But Washington and Toronto seem much better, and the Bulls did lose Ben Gordon.

I believe they can make up for the loss, given they wouldn't have pursued John Salmons last winter if they were certain they would bring back Gordon. I think the top seven is good with Derrick Rose and Salmons in the backcourt backed up by Kirk Hinrich, and Luol Deng and Tyrus Thomas up front with Noah and Brad Miller in reserve.

Tyrus also is going into a contract season, and maybe it's finally time he'll break through. He's surely a better shot blocker and defender than Boozer, who'd obviously replace Thomas.

The question, as it's always been, is what will it cost?

The Jazz, for now, have insisted on a player and salary cap relief given they are well over the luxury tax after matching Portland's offer to Millsap.

So the Jazz would like to deal with a team below the salary cap or in a three-team deal. I don't believe that will happen. It seems clear the environment is poisoned in Utah and the community is anti-Boozer, that it's unlikely the Jazz bring Boozer to camp. There were amusing dueling columns about Boozer in the Salt Lake Tribune last week with the beat writer saying he'd brought his parents to a shootaround and Boozer was the only player to stop and introduce himself while a columnist ended his column on what he felt was the mercenary Boozer this way:

"It's not that he's sinister. He's self-interested. It's not that he's dastardly. He's disingenuous. It's not that he's a cheater. He's a chameleon. Carlos Boozer is nobody's champion. He's the chairman of Carlos Boozer Inc."

There are other ways to save money than by dealing a player to a team below the salary cap.

One way is you can make a trade and have the salaries come within 25 percent and $100,000. With Boozer, that could save the Jazz about $3 million. You can also contribute up to $3 million in a trade and there is the possibility with the Bulls' Jerome James that you can get insurance money if he doesn't play this season. It's not clear yet whether the Jazz would take such a deal.

Late Sunday night there was still another rumored deal. I received several emails about ESPN's Scoop Jackson on his Twitter (not sure if that is the correct grammar for Twitter) saying Tyrus Thomas and Jerome James were going to Houston with Carl Landry and Shane Battier to the Jazz and Boozer to the Bulls. If that's true, I assume the Rockets have decided to throw the season. Meanwhile, would the Jazz take Kirk Hinrich? That wouldn't save them money as Hinrich has two seasons after this one. You could enlarge a deal to throw in James and take something back from the Jazz. The Jazz long have had interest in Hinrich and it's little known—and likely denied by all—that when Deron Williams was struggling as a rookie the Jazz made inquires about trading him, including to the Bulls for Hinrich. Coach Jerry Sloan long has been a big Hinrich fan. Nothing ever came close and I doubt they would have dealt Williams.

But that could be a big issue for the Bulls. You lose Gordon and then Hinrich, and then your backcourt is weak with only Jannero Pargo and Lindsey Hunter as backups and Salmons not a true shooting guard. You could end up worse off with Boozer. I doubt I'd do that.

So would the Jazz take Tyrus and an expiring deal, like James'? That would save them some money on the 25 percent, give them an expiring deal and perhaps a chance at insurance and a young forward to team with Millsap. I've long questioned Thomas' fit with the Bulls, though he did come on late last season and provides a shot blocking presence that is troublesome for opponents teamed with Noah. The Bulls insist their priority is defense for next season, and the records suggest the Bulls always score enough and offense is not the problem. If defense is the problem, then why deal for a poorer defender at a time when you seem to have plenty of scoring?

I'd probably take the shot if the Jazz would do Thomas and James. Plus, it would keep Boozer away from any Eastern opponents. Of course, it might be easier to score if he were with someone else.

I do believe the Bulls have interest. The question is if the price comes down, which it may well. If it does, I'd say the odds go up as Boozer made it clear in a Chicago radio interview the Bulls are appealing and his representatives are said to be pushing for the Bulls. Though I believe that's what they say when they talk to the Bulls.

I think there's more to come on this story.

Noah playing for French national team

-- Joakim Noah is back in Europe playing for the French national team, and it's not the Four Seasons and chartered aircraft. It turns out the soccer team from Monaco was staying in the same hotel and four soccer players came down with the H1N1 virus (swine flu). It was said to be mild and no further problems developed. French journalist Liliane Trevisan interviewed Noah for the newspaper L'Equipe and translated Noah's responses:

"It's a difficult situation for everyone, but I had to come because it was one of my dreams to play with this (French) team. But I understand the Bulls' position (they compromised on a two week stay). We accomplished some good things last season. We're going to improve, and I also want to be a part of this (national team). That's why it's important for me to be in Chicago this summer. I have to gain weight because next season I'll have to take the big Shaq four times. I feel they (Bulls) trust me. They probably expect me to be more of a leader in this team. I have to be there with them. We are a young team, and we have to improve together because individual improvement is not enough in the NBA. We lost someone that helped us a lot last season (Gordon). But you should not forget that we will have some players coming back from injury, like Luol Deng, and who can bring us a lot. That's why it is important for me to be there. Lu will be there, ready to work, to play. And I want to work with him. I want that we all work together in order to get ready for the season."

Summer league wrap up

-- The Bulls had a nice finish for their Summer League team with three straight wins and a 3-2 record as they headed home Sunday night. Taj Gibson sat out again as a precaution, though the priority was to get a good look at James Johnson. Johnson finished with 18 points and seven rebounds in Sunday's win over Minnesota and finished the week averaging 16.6 points, seven rebounds and 3.6 assists. He shot 39.7 percent from the field and 77 percent on free throws. So he can shoot, but as he gets beyond 16 to 18 feet his shot suffers. What's clear about Johnson is he's not a safe pick. He's a real talent, but he'll need goading and constant care. He could be really good. The Bulls have long been criticized for so called safe picks. Johnson isn't a safe pick. He's a risk with a high talent ceiling. It will be entertaining to watch and see whether he can develop and how good he's willing to try to become.

So far, so good for Deng

-- Luol Deng has been cleared for basketball workouts and to begin playing in the next week or two. Reports are his stress fracture is healed, and everyone is holding their breath that it doesn't develop again. No one can be truly sure until Deng begins to play. Chicago attorney Herb Rudoy of Interperformances with associate Ronald Shade are now representing Deng after his former agent who negotiated his big deal with the Bulls, Jason Levien, joined the Kings front office. Deng likely would require surgery if the fracture reappears.

Chasing free agents

-- So you want to chase free agents? That's clearly the plan of the Bulls—and several teams—for next summer. It's not going to be easy to get the big name guys given the ability of their own teams to pay them an extra year and bigger annual raises. The difference between staying and leaving is estimated to be about $29 million, most in that sixth year salary. Some say it can come close to being equalized by purchasing insurance for that sixth season. A player can collect if he gets hurt and doesn't get another contract, though it certainly would be a substantial premium. Still, it serves all the big name free agents like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade not to sign and extension this summer. So there'll be a season of mystery about whether they'll go and if so where.

One question is how much—or whether—you can improve in free agency and whether it is worth the cost versus working through the draft and being patient with young talent.

Just imagine you had all the money you wanted to sign free agents this summer. How would your team look?

Starters:

G: Andre Miller
G: Ron Artest
F: Hedo Turkoglu
F: David Lee
C: Antonio McDyess

Reserves:

G: Mike Bibby
G: Anthony Parker
F: Paul Millsap
F: Lamar Odom
C: Mehmet Okur

You fill out your roster with aging former All Stars Allen Iverson, still without a significant offer, and Rasheed Wallace.

So where are you going with that team? The only All Stars other than the two veterans were McDyess and Okur once each. So why were we all so excited and breathless about where they were signing?

You've got to love this feud going on between the Trailblazers and Jazz. Portland apparently had little interest in Paul Millsap, but offered a contract without ever contacting him, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, to get the Jazz to match and force them into financial trouble. So Jazz GM Kevin O'Connor took a little dig at the Trail Blazers at Millsap's press conference, telling Utah media: ''Obviously, the market was set by somebody who valued [Millsap] very much, even though they've got a guy [LaMarcus Aldridge] that they're going to pay a lot of money to." That's right, get he and Brandon Roy thinking max deals and Portland's payroll is going to explode.

Gordon gets his money

-- Yes, Ben Gordon got his money and congratulations to him. But it seems hard to justify that it came with pursuing winning more than he could have in Chicago. The Pistons are apparently adding free agent Chris Wilcox to go with a front line of Kwame Brown and Jason Maxiell. That might make Tyrus look like an offensive force. ... It was interesting to read in Orlando media reports the agent for Marcin Gortat said Gortat was "very disappointed" the Magic matched the offer sheet from Dallas. "He's a competitor, but he's also realistic enough to know that the chances that he will start ahead of Dwight Howard are extremely, extremely low," Gortat's agent said. "He saw that Dallas made a tremendous commitment money-wise but also basketball-wise to making him a starter for their team for the next five years. He had been very excited about signing the offer sheet, and he was he understandably very disappointed today when I called him and told him they decided to match." The NBA experience with this is players who end up staying against their preference often give up. I remember Charlie Bell doing that with the Bucks. I assume the Magic will trade Gortat after the waiting period into December. And I have little doubt he'll give his permission.

NBA news and notes

-- You hear rumors of Allen Iverson to the Clippers or Grizzlies. It would likely be a disaster for those two relatively uncompetitive teams. Let's see: Iverson with Zach Randolph, O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay (Coach, can we play with four balls?) or with Baron Davis, Ricky Davis and Chris Kaman and in L.A. Blake Griffin never saw anything like that back on the farm. You hear Charlotte, and while they have Raja Bell and Gerald Wallace, you have to look back and marvel at how Larry Brown held it together and did as much as he did with Iverson's game. Brown was Coach of the Year in 2001 when the 76ers went to the Finals. But it is amazing with Iverson moving around so much and disrupting teams like he has been that Brown had that 76ers team so competitive for so long. He really is a special coach. Brown, by the way—and I don't know why—is helping out with the French national team this summer. Yes, the man loves basketball.

-- It doesn't sound like Amar'e Stoudemire is going anywhere. There was serious talk of a trade with the Warriors, where veteran players generally don't want to go because of all the internal turmoil. It would have meant a Suns rebuilding. But it's clear they've decided the opposite and the belief around Stoudemire is he'll eventually resign. The Suns seem set to extend Steve Nash and got a commitment from Grant Hill. And Nash has been his best playing pick and roll with Stoudemire. Neither can defend much, so they are a match. Plus, Stoudemire is said to see it being his team down the road as Nash gets on in years. GM's are saying the Suns no longer will address deals for Stoudemire, and Suns GM Steve Kerr told Phoenix media last week about Stoudemire: "He's personally very motivated." Stoudemire's eye surgery is not expected to be an issue.