Carlos Boozer has been with the Bulls for three seasons now with two left to go on his contract. It hasn't exactly been a signing which has inspired fans as Boozer has taken significant criticism over this three year period. Personally, I'm somewhere caught between disappointed and relieved it wasn't worse.
I once described the Bulls nightmare 2010 off-season as signing both Joe Johnson and Carlos Boozer [prior to the Bulls signing either]. Two guys who were sure to get near the max and not be remotely worth it. Ironically, while I thought that pairing was awful, it probably would have been enough to get the Bulls the NBA title in 2010.
They would have paid for it for years afterwards with inflexibility and other issues, but one title would have been enough to redeem everything else, so it would have been worth it. That said, the Bulls couldn't have matched Joe Johnson's contract with Atlanta, and Johnson smartly chased every cent.
The Bulls meanwhile got the lesser of those two bad deals in Carlos Boozer, but he's still managed to disappoint fans. Is the criticism fair? It's hard for me to reconcile that the Bulls were a 41 team prior to Boozer and a 60+ win team after him for two seasons. Derrick Rose's ascension gets the lion's share of that credit, but they won 45 games last year without Derrick Rose compared to the two 41 seasons the Bulls had with Rose the two prior seasons.
The rest of the roster moves were simply cogs and role players, the only other thing of significance was bringing in Tom Thibodeau to replace Vinny Del Negro. Most fans think it comes down to the players and that the coaches don't move the needle much. I typically agree with this as well, but probably going from worst case to best case makes about as big a coaching impact as you can have.
The Clippers scare the hell out of me this year for the same reason.
So all that said, in the end, I have to give Boozer some credit for the Bulls rise. Yes, he's frequently inefficient when used in isolation. Yes, he's disappeared in many important moments and is somewhat of a bum slayer that plays his best against inferior opponents. That said, the Bulls have needed an offensive role playing big man.
I hate when the Bulls use 15 seconds of the shot clock trying to get him an isolation look or feed him in the post, but he has provided a threat on the floor to play next to Rose. He has put up a bunch of points for a team that has trouble scoring. He's been one of the more efficient scorers on the team in his seasons here.
He does rebound the basketball and done his share in keeping the Bulls massive rebounding advantage against most teams, and most importantly, he's stayed healthy for Chicago rather than being constantly hurt for the Utah Jazz. My biggest fear with Boozer is that we'd get forty games a year out of him and lose two of his five seasons to injury. Unless its the last two, that won't happen.
In fact, Boozer's been perhaps the Bulls healthiest starter. He was clearly limited in the 2010/11 playoffs, but he was ready and able for three post seasons. The three other Bulls starters who've been around for the past three years have missed two (Rose), and one a piece (Noah, Deng).
On top of that, Boozer's been a good team player. He's a good locker room guy, he does work hard in the off-season, he helps the chemistry rather than hurting it. He's well liked, and when he's benched in the fourth because he can't play defense he rallies on his teammates instead of whining and bitching.
At the same time, the criticisms sent his way aren't unfair. Bulls fans have watched 30lbs overweight Kurt Thomas massively outperform Boozer on the defensive end. They've seen his offensive numbers dip from his Utah days both in terms of volume and efficiency [was typically up around 58-59% TS% rather than the 54%ish number for the Bulls].
His on/off numbers for his entire career paint him as a guy who's not helping you nearly as much as the numbers say he is giving more evidence that fans ranting about his defense aren't totally nuts. Compared to Taj Gibson, his netted on/off number looks like this:
Which makes these numbers more shocking is that Carlos Boozer has a massive roster advantage over Gibson. He plays nearly 100% of his minutes alongside Derrick Rose which artificially raises his high mark while Gibson plays probably half his minutes with Rose on the bench. Boozer has a massive inherent advantage in terms of teammates he plays with and still underperforms Gibson.
In short, the team has generally functioned much better when he's not playing, and the fans who criticize his defense aren't crazy. That said, if we lived in the video game world and could play Taj Gibson 48 minutes a night without him getting tired or hurt, I don't think the team would be better.
The Bulls need some offensive oriented role players. They need a guy who can occasionally just bully someone in the post. They need someone who can chew up 15 seconds of shot clock and let Derrick Rose stand around on offense and catch a breath after he just hard core sprinted for 15 seconds the previous play.
Look at the contracts given out to other big men then ask yourself, if Carlos Boozer were a free agent right now, what would he fetch on the open market? How much would you pay him? My guess is Boozer that if Boozer gives the Bulls similar performance for two years [or us one and his amnesty team one] then he'll still likely make between five and ten million. If a team ponies up 12, I'll think they're nuts, but I won't be surprised.
Big men get paid. Scorers get paid. Big men who can score, even with significant other weaknesses get paid.
We were looking for an offensive oriented big man for about five or six seasons prior to Boozer and could never find one. There simply aren't that many in the league. It's all still a bit too frustrating with Boozer though. Watching him late on every rotation, watching a season of Kurt Thomas who's not as big, strong, or quick playing quality defense while Boozer can't.
There's just something missing there, and we're way beyond the point of hoping that something will be filled in. Utah waited for years in Boozer's prime. Thibodeau has coached him for three straight seasons. If it didn't happen under nearly a decade of Thibodeau and Sloan, it's not going to happen.
The Bulls will need a plan to replace him though. They won't be better simply because of his ouster and sending in some guy who tries hard at the minimum. They'll need to replace him with a legit NBA big man without the money to spend on a legit NBA big man. Maybe they find someone in the draft, maybe Nikola Mirotic can be the answer [signs are promising], but a plan needs to be in place.
Until then, it's a bunch of GIMMIE DATs and a few GET THAT SHIT JOs to co-inside with 15 points, three open layups allowed, and a lot of good cheer on the bench when he sits in a critical stretch of the game.