The Utah Jazz Puzzle

Published: Sunday, June 28 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

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It's a decision for the ages, one that could drastically alter a franchise's future.

The call belongs to Carlos Boozer, two-time NBA All-Star, two-time USA Basketball Olympic medalist and — for the past five seasons, when he wasn't missing nearly a third of his career in Utah nursing foot, hamstring and knee injuries — the Jazz's starting power forward.

The possibilities:

 Opt out, by Tuesday's deadline for doing so, of the final season and his current contract and — at the risk of having to resort to a new deal that starts at less than the $12,657,223 he is due next season — enter the NBA's summer free-agency shopping market; that would allow Boozer to sign elsewhere, perhaps Detroit, with the Jazz recouping nothing but reduced payroll and luxury-tax wiggle room;

 Opt out, and permit the Jazz to engage in a sign-and-trade that would allow them to acquire one or more commodities in return — and would allow Boozer higher pay annual raises (10 percent instead of 8.5) and perhaps even a new sixth-year deal instead of five;

 Opt out and, to the likely shock of many, sign a multiyear contract to remain in Utah; or

 Pass on opting out, as he insisted he'd definitely do back in December, eat crow and return to the Jazz for one more season — thereby yielding the pay raise he's said he's unequivocally due.

With starting center Mehmet Okur and backup shooting guard Kyle Korver both having opportunities to opt-out as well, and backup power forward Paul Millsap a soon-to-be restricted free agent also impacted by Boozer's plans, the Jazz wait and wonder.

"Obviously," said Okur's agent, Marc Fleisher, "they're juggling a lot of their front line."

"So I am sure these things are a big puzzle — and when certain pieces fit, you will know what's going to happen next."

The biggest piece of all, at least for now, has got to be Boozer.

"With Boozer holding the cards, it's kind of all up in the air," said DeAngelo Simmons, Millsap's representative and uncle. "So, we're just waiting. There are so many variables, so you just can't put your finger on it."

If Boozer doesn't opt out, and the Jazz still matched any offer sheet Millsap signs with another team, as they've vowed to do, they would start the season a potential NBA luxury-tax paying team.

Signals from within the organization seem to indicate the Jazz are not interested in having Boozer back long-term for the kind of money he supposedly is seeking.

"I would say this: Everybody has a number that they like," Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor said Friday. "And if those numbers don't work, then it doesn't work."

But if Boozer does leave, Utah would have to replace someone who since coming to Salt Lake City in 2004 has averaged more than 19 points and more than 10 rebounds per game.

"We'd have to fill a hole. Sure. Absolutely," O'Connor said when asked about the possibility of losing Boozer sans compensation.

"I mean, it affects team dynamics if somebody opts out and signs elsewhere. Then we've got to try to fill a void."

Whether it will come to that, however, remains to be seen.

Some around the NBA are convinced Boozer — who at various times in his career has been portrayed as unhappy in Utah and who did return a Saturday text message asking about his plans — will opt out and never for a second consider returning to the Jazz, with Detroit being his next address.

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