At 18-6, good for best in the NBA's Eastern Conference, the Chicago Bulls don't have a lot to complain about so far this season. The team's "bench mob" has helped the Bulls weather an assortment of injuries, Rip Hamilton (when healthy) has reminded the Windy City why the word "shooting" is associated with the second guard position, and Derrick Rose has been, well, Derrick Rose.
The struggles for Bulls power forward Carlos Boozer, however, have been well-documented. The bald big man spent an inconsistent first season in Chicago after signing a five-year $76 million deal last offseason.
This year, he showed up to camp in great shape with even greater hopes of a comeback season. Unfortunately, that has not come to fruition for the ex-Utah Jazz. In 99 games with the Bulls, including playoffs, the big man has fallen in love with his jump shot, failing to provide the Bulls with the true inside scoring threat they signed him to be.
Boozer's overly exaggerated head nod and screams after "and 1's" and easy dunks make fans cringe. Indiana Pacer's coach Frank Vogel eluded to the Bulls power forward while responding to criticism that his team celebrated too much after a win against the Bulls in Chicago on ESPN Radio 1000, "I don't know if we really celebrated any more than a lot of teams celebrated when they get a road win," Vogel said. "I know they've got a couple guys on their team who celebrate on every play."
On the season, Boozer is averaging 15.1 points per game, the former Jerry Sloan disciple's lowest output since his rookie campaign in Cleveland. His rebounding totals have also drastically declined, at 8.6 rpg. In fact, you have to go back to the '05-'06 season in Utah, when the 6 foot 9 inch forward hadn't yet fully recovered from a quad injury, for the last time, the big man averaged less than nine rebounds a game.
Some of Boozer's slow start may be attributed to the condensed season. For veteran big men around the league like Kevin Garnett, it generally takes a bit longer to get into a rhythm, and more time to recover between games. Joakim Noah, for example, came into camp in great shape, but acknowledged, "I might be in better game shape" as the season has worn on. Turning 27 on Feb. 25th, Noah is also practically a newborn next to his starting frontcourt mate.
That said, Boozer's stats against the NBA elite are even more disheartening than his season averages. When the Bulls have faced teams with .500 records and above, he is shooting an un-bigman like 46.8 percent from the field, while averaging 12.25 points per game, including a 9 point dud against the Philadelphia 76ers. Boozer shot 4/11 shooting from the field with two turnovers, contributing only 1 point after halftime in an eventual 82-98 blowout loss to the Sixers. His defense? Nothing short of atrocious, as Bulls fans have come to expect.
ESPNChicago.com's Nick Friedell briefed Bulls fans Tuesday on ESPN Radio 1000, "Boozer has no trade value around the league. The Bulls will have to look at possibly using the amnesty clause on him over the next few seasons. He doesn't fit what the organization is trying to do long-term."
With four years left on his contract, the Bulls won't be shipping Boozer off to Orlando in a package for Dwight Howard. The rest of the League isn't interested unless the returning player also has a silly long-term contract.
Shoddy defense, shying away from the post and coming up small in big games have so far characterized the former Duke Blue Devil's short stint in Chicago.
Despite his struggles, C-Booz does have the physical abilities and skills to make his critics eat their words. The classic Stockton-to-Malone side pick-and-roll with D-Rose that Coach Tom Thibodeau carried over from the Jazz has generated "ooo's" and "ahhh's" from time to time. If Boozer can snap out of it and become the inside presence he once was, it's tough to see how anybody, including the Heat, will stop the Larry O'Brien Trophy from returning to Grant Park with the Bulls.
Until that happens,"Booze Hound" would do well do get comfortable in Chicago's doghouse.