SALT LAKE CITY —
Hello, Chicago. Love your deep-dish pizza and hot dogs. In a way, we feel like we're old acquaintances. We did spend a lot of time together back in the day.
Because of that, we in Utah just wanted to give you a heads up on Carlos Boozer, the free agent you're adding to your roster. The man is going to tantalize you. We imagined him as the second coming of Karl Malone. But don't be fooled. He's far more complex than that.
Malone, you could read him like a movie marquee. When he was in a bad mood, feeling neglected or feeling happy, we all knew it.
Boozer just has so many layers.
And here's the thing: He'll never let you in. Five years from now, you won't know any more about him than you do today.
We Utahns never did figure him out, and it bothered us. We like plain speakers. That's why the late Larry H. Miller was such a popular owner — he never met a subject he wouldn't address. Jerry Sloan's not nearly as gregarious, but he's as plainspoken as a farmer. (Wait a minute, he is a farmer.) Even John Stockton's stony-faced determination made sense. He didn't talk much, but at least we knew his intentions.
Stockton was always ready to go, every single night.
Boozer was a vapor, a fleeting glance from the corner of the eye. Good guy, bad guy, All-Star, slacker. The most polarizing Jazz player since Adrian Dantley and probably the most disliked Jazz player ever. Greg Ostertag had detractors, but compared to Boozer it wasn't even close.
That's because expectations weren't high for Ostertag. Most Jazz fans just rolled their eyes when he screwed up. Boozer made fans angry, not so much for screwing up as for not showing up.
Like Boozer, Dantley alienated fans with his standoffish personality, but he arrived in the early days when the Jazz profoundly needed a star. And he always came ready to play. Boozer did, too, producing 20 points and 10 rebounds every night.
On the nights that he wasn't hurt.
On one end of the court.
It's the strangest thing. Boozer doesn't squabble with his coaches, fans or the press. You wonder if sometimes doing so would help him to let off steam. But it isn't going to happen. He's detached, distant, condescending. Ask a question, any question, and his favorite response is "We'll just have to wait and see what happens."
Here's what you'll be getting: A guy who is ultimately unsatisfying. A player who isn't fully committed but won't say exactly why. A guy who may or may not have lied to get out of Cleveland and sign a free-agent contract with the Jazz, who may or may not have been told a year ago by the Jazz they weren't planning to have him back. A star who may or may not have needed to miss 28 percent of his games in Utah due to injuries. A man who missed one of the most important regular-season games in club history — the 2010 regular-season finale against Phoenix — due to a strained stomach muscle, then immediately said he'd be ready for the playoffs.
There would be no stopping him, he said.
Just don't ask him to play in the game that could have changed their playoff fortunes.
In fairness, here's one thing you're not getting: a thug. As far as Utahns can tell, he's as law-abiding as a crossing guard. He's just self-centered, even by NBA standards. He doesn't fire guns, do drugs or party loud, but he doesn't do warm and fuzzy, either.
Miller, you could love, because he cried on a moment's notice. Heaven knows the fans loved Malone for similar reasons. Stockton was likable because of the fire inside.
The problem with Boozer is always the contradictions, like the time he declared he would opt out of his contract for a "guaranteed raise," then opted in, leaving the Jazz in a quandary. And the times he told radio hosts he'd love to play in their city, with their players, yet also said his preference was to stay in Utah.
He defended Utah when a Miami radio host called it a "horrible place to live, horrible" by saying, "Nah, it's not that bad," and "You know, I'm raising my kids out there. It's pretty nice."
When the host added, "But those Mormon people are crazy, aren't they? I mean, the Morm ... ?"
Boozer's response was "Nah, they're not bad at all. They're not bad at all."32 comments on this story
Not great, mind you.
That's Boozer — neither all the way in nor out.
Same thing with his game. He's amazingly consistent, on offense only. In six years in Utah, he proved he can get a team to the playoffs, but not to the top.
So here you are, Chicago — Salt Lake's gift to you. It's not like you're getting a non-producer. But you are getting a guy you'll want to love, yet who will leave you suspicious and wanting.
Because cool is sometimes the biggest turnoff of all.