SALT LAKE CITY — If you ask Charles Barkley — and his buddies on the TNT set did late Thursday night — the Utah Jazz have a big problem.
And the Round Mound wasn't talking about Saturday's home game against the Los Angeles Lakers, who walloped the Jazz 101-77 at the Staples Center on Wednesday night.
So how big is this other problem?
According to the ever-opinionated Barkley, the problem is so big it weighs 266 pounds, stands 6 feet 9 inches tall and is hindering the Jazz's chances to be a serious contender this season.
It also has a name: Carlos Boozer.
Yes, the same one who is the reigning Western Conference player of the week and who has looked like an All-Star the past month or so.
"(The Jazz) are a decent team," Barkley said on the "Inside the NBA" show after Utah's 120-111 win over Orlando. "But they have to do something about Carlos Boozer."
The general manager wannabe didn't specify what that "something" should be — though the word "trade" might be found in the blanks — but he insinuated that the 13-9 Jazz might not be so up and down this season if that "something" had already happened.
"They know they are not going to re-sign him," Barkley said of the Jazz. "Carlos Boozer started it last year when he said he was opting out of his contract. That offended the Jazz and the people of Salt Lake and now he is going to be a free agent. So now they are going through the motions this year because Boozer is not going to be there ... next year."
Asked by TNT host Ernie Johnson if he really believes Deron Williams and other Jazz players are thinking about the summer of 2010 and beyond right now, Barkley insisted that Boozer's uncertain future is a legitimate concern for his teammates and that it negatively affects them and the two-time All-Star.
"Yes, that is one reason Carlos Boozer has been inconsistent. You can't fake energy and effort," Barkley responded following Boozer's 20-point, 14-rebound outing. "He knows he is not going to be there next year. Everyone in Utah knows it; everyone on that team knows it."
Barkley insisted the inner-turmoil exists, which could explain losses to the likes of Minnesota, but has been less evident overall as the Jazz have won six of eight. On top of that, Boozer has been their hottest player. The Jazz power forward has a 60.5 field-goal percentage in his last 10 games — even including a 5-for-16, 11-point clunker Wednesday in L.A. ?— and is only one of two NBA players currently averaging more than 20 points and 10 rebounds.
TNT commentator Doug Collins wasn't involved in Barkley's Boozer conversation, but he poured large amounts of praise on the Jazz big man during Thursday's telecast. He talked like Boozer was more of an attraction than a distraction.
"I don't know if I've seen Carlos more active than I've seen him the last week or so," Collins said.
Collins credited Boozer for improving his physical condition — including losing weight and getting his legs back — since his injury-plagued 2008-09 season.
"I think now," Collins added, "he's healthy and is very strong."
The Jazz didn't practice Friday, so it remains to be seen if they'll take Barkley's comments with a grain of salt or if he peeled off the Band-Aid and poured some more salt on an old wound.
Either way, Jazz management has insisted that they've been extremely pleased by Boozer's performance on and off the court this year.
Likewise, Boozer has insisted since joining the Jazz for camp in late September that his heart, soul and loyalties are with Utah.
Boozer did, however, show again that he's not adverse to talking about playing with non-Jazz players.
This summer, along with talking about being traded, Boozer mentioned that he'd love to play with Chicago's Derrick Rose and Miami's Dwyane Wade.
Same theme, new player this week.
Though he didn't talk about being shipped to the team closest to Disney World, Boozer told orlandomagic.com on Thursday that he'd enjoy playing with Dwight Howard, whom the writer called "his closest friend in the NBA."
"You got that big fella down there on defense because he covers up a lot of mistakes for you when he's as active as he is," said Boozer, who visited Howard in Orlando's locker room following the Jazz's win Thursday at EnergySolutions Arena. "Everybody in the league would like to be on the same team as Superman."
Jazz on the air
Utah Jazz (13-9) vs. L.A. Lakers (17-3****)
Tonight, 7 p.m.
TV: FSN Utah Radio: 1320 AM, 98.7 FM
e-mail: [email protected]