SALT LAKE CITY — By the time he finished shooting free throws with a couple of teammates, walked past the throngs of reporters to the locker room for a few minutes, Carlos Boozer was all smiles as he returned to face the microphones, tape recorders and cameras.
Boozer said he was happy to be back in Salt Lake, where he played for six seasons, happy to be playing for the Chicago Bulls, who lead the NBA's Eastern Conference Central Division by 12 games and seemingly happy with life in general.
When Boozer spoke to the media after the Bulls' practice at the Jazz's practice facility early Tuesday afternoon, it marked the first time since he signed a five-year contract with the Bulls last July, that he has talked to the Utah media about leaving town last year after a tumultuous couple of years.
Boozer essentially left as a free agent and many local folks were not too sad to see him go after he expressed a desire to leave Utah a year earlier. Because the Jazz and Bulls worked out an agreement for Utah to get a "trade exception," giving Utah enough salary cap money to sign Al Jefferson later in the summer, Boozer's loss on the floor hasn't been felt that much by the Jazz.
"It's been kind of strange — me and Kyle and Ronnie have already been talking about it," he said. "Flying in last night and going to the hotel instead of to our houses, coming here in another uniform . . it already feels kind of weird. I'm sure tomorrow night will be kind of weird."
Boozer was asked about the possible reception he'd get from Jazz fans, many of whom were not happy with him during his final year.
He joked about not being able to hear any boos, saying, "It's all booozzz to me." But then he added, "It's going to be a fun night. I'll probably hear some boos, probably hear some cheers. Most arenas we got into we hear boos so I'm not worried about it. I'm looking forward to it."
Boozer pointed out that he had to go through a similar scenario when he went back to Cleveland after leaving that franchise to play for Utah.
"I just play," he said. "I've played a lot of basketball games in my career. I'm more prepared for it than some people may think."
Boozer almost acted oblivious to any bad feelings Utah fans might have felt over his departure. When asked if fans had treated him unfairly while he was in Utah, he said, "No, not at all. I had a great time while I was here, I have great memories and the fans were great to me. We had some great teams and tried to compete for a title."
Asked what he missed most about Utah, Boozer replied, "A lot man — teammates, coach (Jerry) Sloan, the great environment here . . . I grew up a lot here in the NBA in Utah. I'm excited to come back and see so many friendly faces, so many people I have memories with."
Boozer said he saw former teammate Mehmet Okur and assistant coach Ty Corbin earlier Tuesday morning as well as other members of the Jazz organization. He hadn't seen Sloan yet, but couldn't say enough good things about him when asked what he learned from him.
"Everything," he said. "He's one of those real dudes. Some people out there are fake and say one thing to your face and something else behind your back. Jerry wasn't that way. Jerry would tell you like it was. Great coach, great friend. He's one of those guys you can relate to because he's a regular guy. Even though he's in the Hall of Fame, you wouldn't know it if you met him on the street."
Boozer said he still follows the Jazz and knew they recently "had a lull," but were just a few games out of third place in the Western Conference.
"They're still playing well and in the playoff hunt," he said. "They're still a very talented team, very well coached. D-Will is playing out of his mind again which is normal for him. Down the stretch of the season, I think they'll be fine."
Boozer has started in all 32 games he's played for the Bulls this year. He sat out the first 15 games with a hand injury and then missed three games last month with an ankle injury.
He averages 19.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, while shooting 54.8 percent, very similar to last year's numbers at Utah when he averaged 19.5 points and 11.2 rebounds on 56.2 percent shooting from the field.
Boozer says he's happy to be playing in Chicago, which could be very good when Joakim Noah gets back from a thumb injury that has kept him out for six weeks.
"We're doing really well, but have a long way to go," Boozer said. "We have high aspirations and have a high caliber team when we're healthy."
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