Jazz, Cavaliers, And Boozer Were Fools Meant For Each Other
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – April Fools Day, otherwise known as All Fools Day, is an annual celebration of jokes, pranks, and general foolish behavior. In the history of the Utah Jazz organization, perhaps no player, or situation is better suited for this celebration than Carlos Boozer. This is the story of how the Jazz fooled themselves, fooled the Cleveland Cavaliers, and were fooled by Boozer himself.
The Predraft Process
When telling Boozer’s story it’s important to examine the former Duke Blue Devil’s college career to add context to his history. From 30,000 feet, Boozer seemed to have everything you’d want in a college player heading into the NBA draft.
Boozer played three years at Duke and was a major contributor the moment he stepped on campus. In 101 career college games, the future Jazzman averaged 14.9 points, 7.2 rebounds, and helped lead the Blue Devils to a National Championship in 2001, including a stellar 19 point performance against Maryland in the Final Four to erase a 22 point deficit as a sophomore
In his final season at Duke, Boozer upped his averages to 18.2 points per game and 8.7 rebounds.
So how did a star contributor, with a National Championship under his belt from a blue-chip program fail to become a top-10 pick in the draft? There are four major contributors.
First, Boozer was simply overshadowed by the talent on his own team. Despite being Duke’s second-leading scorer as a junior, the eventual second-round pick played alongside Jay Williams, Mike Dunleavy, Shane Battier, Dahntay Jones, and Daniel Ewing, all future NBA players.
Often in college programs, when one team features that much talent, it becomes difficult for NBA front offices to decipher future NBA stars from borderline rotational players. Some college players will see their game artificially boosted by playing among better talent, while others will have their true potential hidden by their teammates.
Second, Duke followed up its championship run in Boozer’s sophomore year with a disappointing exit the following March. After beating Arizona to claim the title in 2001, Duke brought back nearly every starter on its roster minus Battier and was the prohibitive favorite to repeat as champions.
Despite a 31-4 record at seasons end, Duke suffered an ugly loss in the sweet-16 against the Indiana Hoosiers which included a missed Boozer putback that could have won the game in the final seconds. Though NBA front offices don’t like to admit it, they’re easily swayed by tournament performances, and Boozer’s final miss hurt his legacy.
Third, the 2002 draft was loaded with perceived talent at the power forward position. Despite Boozer’s stellar career, he was drafted after 12 other power forwards who were taken in just 34 picks. With a sudden influx of international players entering the draft and Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki starting to realize his vast potential, NBA teams were beginning to look outside of the college basketball system for future stars.
Fourth, Boozer’s weight and conditioning were a question mark in college. Despite finishing his NBA career with a sculpted frame, Boozer carried a much softer body at Duke. Mixed with a disappointing draft combine performance, Boozer’s highly skilled game was getting overlooked due to the potential red flags surrounding his athleticism.
Jazz Fool Themselves
Despite some of Boozer’s question marks heading into the draft, it was clear the Jazz were showing real interest in the Duke forward. Not only was Boozer projected to be available with the Jazz 19th overall pick, the team worked him out not once, but twice during the predraft process.
Traditionally, when a team brings back a player for a second workout, it’s done in private for a franchise to finalize its plans to select the player.
Additionally, with Karl Malone entering the final years of his career, it seemed like the ideal opportunity to bring in his future replacement to study under the future Hall of Famer before eventually taking his position.
However, as the Jazz were put on the clock in the 2002 NBA draft, they were surprised to see that Stanford center Curtis Borchardt, a projected lottery pick was slipping down draft boards. With their eyes set on a draft-night steal, the Jazz traded their pick to the Orlando Magic to move up one spot in the draft to secure Borchardt.
Unfortunately for the Jazz, Borchardt’s foot injuries which had been prevalent in college continued to plague him throughout his NBA career, making the once-promising prospect one of the biggest draft busts in team history.
Meanwhile, Boozer slipped to the Cavaliers with the 35th pick in the second round of the draft and saw his talents fit seamlessly into the modern NBA. By the midway point of his rookie season, Boozer was a fulltime starter and would go onto make the All-Rookie Second Team, averaging 10 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in his inaugural season.
Boozer and Jazz Fool Cavaliers
Boozer continued to punish the Jazz during the first two seasons of his career as the Jazz waited for Borchardt to develop. In Boozer’s second season, the former Duke forward saw his averages climb to 15.5 points per game and 11.4 rebounds, including a then career-high 32 point, 18 rebound performance in an overtime victory in Utah.
After missing his entire rookie season with a broken foot, Borchardt would appear in 16 games for the Jazz in 2003-04, averaging just 3.6 points and 3.4 rebounds.
Despite Borchardt’s poor play, the Jazz were one of the surprise teams of the 2003-04 season, winning 42 games and threatening to make the playoffs after being projected as one of the worst teams in the NBA. With a stockpile of cash, the Jazz entered the summer with their eye towards building a contender.
After signing restricted free agent Mehmet Okur away from the Detroit Pistons, the Jazz set their sights on righting their wrong of passing on Boozer in the summer of 2002.
As a second-round pick, Boozer’s contract with the Cavaliers didn’t offer the same protections or guarantees that teams get when they draft a player in the first round. With a reported handshake agreement that Boozer was planning to sign a long term contract with the Cavaliers, Cleveland ownership allowed the second-year forward to hit the restricted free agent market with plans of inking him to a six-year, $41 million deal.
Instead, Boozer signed a six-year, $68 million deal with the Jazz, an offer sheet the Cavaliers couldn’t afford to match and would become a multi-time All-Star and Olympian during his time in Utah.
Boozer Fools Jazz
Though Boozer’s time in a Jazz uniform was inarguably a success, including a gold medal performance in the 2008 Olympics and a trip to the Western Conference Finals in 2007, it wasn’t without its warts.
In six seasons with the Jazz, Boozer played more than 51 games only three times. During the 2008-09 season that saw Boozer play just 37 games, the Jazz All-Star told ESPN’s Chris Sheridan, “I’m opting out. No matter what, I’m going to get a raise regardless,” leaving Jazz fans with a bad taste in their mouth regarding Boozer’s motivations.
— KSL Sports (@kslsports) April 1, 2020
Despite Boozer’s proclamation, the forward opted into the final year of his deal with the Jazz, coercing the Jazz into a series of trade talks to move the forward to clear salary-cap space and playing time for third-year forward Paul Millsap.
Though a deal that would have landed Boozer in Miami nearly materialized, the Jazz ultimately held onto the forward for one final season before he was signed and traded to the Chicago Bulls in the summer fo 2010, bringing a Traded Player Exception (TPE) back in return.
The TPE would eventually turn into big man Al Jefferson who helped lead the Jazz to one playoff appearance, but Boozer’s inconsistent communication with the team prevented the Jazz from gaining an adequate return on the trade market for his All-Star talents.
Who Fooled Who?
Ultimately, Boozer’s career was a success, but with fewer acts of foolishness, it could have been even better for all parties involved.
The forward made nearly $150 million in his 13-year career that was driven more by financial desires than it was for personal accolades. Boozer may have never made up the $27 million difference between his deal with the Jazz and the reported handshake agreement with the Cavaliers, but would have played the first half of his career alongside LeBron James, and may have been the missing link in the frontcourt to lead Cleveland to a championship.
The Jazz should have drafted Boozer in the summer of 2002 with their first-round pick knowing they’d have their eventual replacement for Malone under team control for the next several seasons. While the franchise ultimately made up for their mistake, it cost them tens of millions of dollars to secure the star player they had sought on draft night before taking a flier on draft night.
The Cavaliers should have picked up Boozer’s third-year option preventing him from hitting the restricted free-agent market and signing with the Jazz. Though Boozer would have become an unrestricted free agent the following summer, the Cavaliers could have offered the forward a bigger contract the following season to keep him in Cleveland long term.
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