The Utah Jazz Puzzle

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 7 2015 12:39 a.m. MDT

 (Deseret News graphic) (Deseret News graphic)

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;

Mehmet Okur (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Mehmet Okur (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

 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.

 (Deseret News graphic) (Deseret News graphic)

"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.

Paul Millsap (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Paul Millsap (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

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."

Mehmet Okur (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Mehmet Okur (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

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.

Some think he and his agent have backed themselves into a corner, and that a dry market might force them to reconsider boasts — first made by Boozer last December to a national ESPN.com reporter during a Jazz road stop at New Jersey — of a certain opt-out plan and an unquestioned pay raise.

Some, including ESPN.com's Chad Ford, don't even think the Pistons will make a run at Boozer.

Carlos Boozer (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Carlos Boozer (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

And some have no clue what he might do.

"I think you've got to see which way the wind's blowing," O'Connor said when asked if the country's current economic plight — and its adverse impact on NBA dollars — might prompt Boozer to alter his previous proclamations.

"And I can't answer that question as far as what that does," the Jazz G.M. added. "Does the economy have something to do with everything in there? Look, I mean, we're all feeling differently than we did in November. ... That affects other teams, as well as ours."

One NBA agent was insistent last week that Boozer will opt out and sign with the Pistons, who — with once-favored destination Miami not having cap money to pursue him; Memphis and Oklahoma City, which do have money, apparently not interested at all; and New Jersey having lost a multi-team sign-and-trade chip after recently shipping Vince Carter to Orlando — have been identified by many as his likeliest, and now perhaps only serious, suitor.

Carlos Boozer (Michael Brandy, Deseret News) Carlos Boozer (Michael Brandy, Deseret News)

But with no more than $19 million in team payroll salary cap room should center Kwame Brown not opt out of a contract worth $4 million next season, and even after it shaved nearly $1.8 million in salary by trading Amir Johnson and acquiring San Antonio's Fabricio Oberto last week, it remains to be seen if Detroit can both lure targeted Ben Gordon of Chicago and accommodate Boozer's arguably exorbitant supposed contract expectations.

"Here's what I am pretty sure about: The speculation that (current Pistons shooting guard) Rip Hamilton and Ben Gordon can't coexist in the same backcourt is false," plugged-in Pistons beat writer Chris McKosky of The Detroit News blogged last Wednesday. "The Pistons won two championships with three great guards — (current Detroit GM) Joe Dumars, Vinnie Johnson and Isiah Thomas. So if Gordon is indeed a free agent target of the Pistons, and I believe he is, that does not mean the Pistons have to trade Hamilton.

"Here's something else I think I know: The Pistons will walk away from Carlos Boozer if he starts demanding $14 million, $15 million per year. You can't put that many eggs in such a fragile basket. And I am sure Dumars has let Boozer's people know that. Thus, maybe Boozer would be wise to take his option and play another year for $12.6 million. Because if the Pistons can't afford him this summer, nobody can.

"So what happens if Boozer is out of the mix? No telling right now," McKosky added. "I haven't gotten the sense that the Pistons are in love with (New York's) David Lee or any of the second-tier frontcourt guys available. I think they might go a little stronger at trying to convince Antonio McDyess to stay. I think maybe they would look into somebody like a Marcus Camby (available via trade from the Los Angeles Clippers) or hope that if Boozer goes back to Utah, they could make a play for Paul Millsap.

But, again, too many vagaries right now to know for sure."

All of which leaves O'Connor, among so many others, anxious to see what the next few days will bring.

He, remember, already has heard Boozer proclaim to local media on locker-cleanout day earlier this year just how much the power forward considers himself a franchise "cornerstone" and how "the ball is in (the Jazz's) court" as to whether or not he stays.

What went through O'Connor's mind when he heard that? "I would say it is up to us — after he makes his decision," the Jazz GM said. "I mean, that's the bottom line. He makes his decision; we'll kind of work from there."

e-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company