Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY —
The atmosphere at EnergySolutions Arena during Wednesday's introductions was a lot like the way it was when Carlos Boozer played for the Jazz. It was impossible to prove (but easy to interpret) whether the crowd was calling "Booooo!" or "Boooooz!"
People didn't completely know how to greet him when he played here, did they? Do you applaud him for his stats or criticize his inability to stay healthy? Do you cheer him for his reticence or condemn him for never saying anything revealing?
Does looking for a better deal ("I'm going to get a raise, regardless") make him a terrible guy? Not necessarily.
But unpopular? Definitely.
"Yeah," he said when asked if he liked the negative reception. "It was a little bit of everything."
It didn't get better after Chicago's 91-86 win over the Jazz. Not that Boozer had a ton to do with it. It had just as much to do with a couple of other Jazz former Jazz players — Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer — who turned in a 3-point basket and a steal, respectively, in the late going.
But, of course, the focus was on Boozer. Every mistake he made was loudly applauded.
"It was one of those games where nothing was fluid," he said.
Much has been said of Boozer being the most reviled Jazz player since Adrian Dantley, but there was one big difference: Dantley was always ready to go. Boozer missed 28 percent of his games when he played in Utah. His sign-off was when he missed the final game of the regular season, last year against Phoenix, due to injury. A win might have moved the Jazz several slots ahead in the playoff positioning.
Boozer took a rain check.
On Wednesday night, he played just the way Jazz fans remembered him, except that he didn't put up big numbers (14 points and six rebounds), which was always his one saving grace. Meanwhile, he played little defense. His man, Paul Millsap, went for 20 points and 14 boards. Millsap slapped the ball away as Boozer went up for his first shot, much to the crowd's delight.
Boozer's slow game might actually have been because he was trying too hard — something he has seldom been accused of. Truth is he does try hard, but only on one end of the court.
While Boozer is averaging a couple more points (19.7 to 17.1) and rebounds (10.3 to 7.8) than Millsap, he has fewer blocks and steals and more turnovers (they are virtually tied on assists). However, the Jazz are four games behind where they were at this time last year.
Still, it's safe to say many Jazz fans are happy with the change, mainly because they know Millsap is at work every night. Which is why Boozer never connected with the public. Though it was never really all-out war with Jazz fans or the media, he was never wildly popular, either. It didn't help that he followed one of the most beloved players in Jazz history — Karl Malone. Both were undeniably talented on the court. But while Malone was transparent off the court, Boozer was opaque.
Now in a new city, Boozer is again turning on the charm. One Chicago writer said this week that he has been a model player to work with since the move. Sound familiar? Sort of like his start in Utah. He is scoring at an impressive clip but also missing games at a high rate — 18 at last count (15 due to a broken finger in the preseason).
At least for Utahns, it's not hard to imagine the same scenario playing out again. He will play well and then get hurt. It won't always be his fault, but it doesn't make him easier to embrace.
No injuries arose on Wednesday, though. Boozer played 33 minutes. The only time he was out was when his coach kept him there. It did seem he was trying too hard, at least offensively. It even seemed forced — not unlike some of his playoff performances.
But unlike his old Jazz days, he didn't dominate.
Either way, it likely wouldn't have changed anyone's mind. Nothing had really shifted in Boozer's game or his history of injuries. All of which reminded Jazz fans why they were relieved to see him go: Because sometimes uncertainty is the worst torment of all.
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