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Bye-Bye Boozer, The End of an Error

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

The Carlos Boozer era in Chicago is coming to an end. At least all signs point that way, the Chicago Bulls and general manager Gar Forman are expected to either amnesty the 32-year-old forward, paying out the remaining $16.8 million on his contract or of course, they’ll attempt to trade him. A potential trade is wishful thinking, Boozer will almost certainly be amnestied.

Bulls fans are clearly upset:

It will be a fitting end to a tumultuous relationship that began in July 2010 when the Bulls, loaded with tons of cap-space, missed out on free agents Joe Johnson, Amare Stoudemire, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. This free agent class was regarded as one of the best ever and after missing out on their top choices, the Bulls settled on Boozer to the tune of five-years, $75 million. LeBron James was still on the market and the Bulls and Boozer tried their damndest to get him to the Windy City. It was all for naught as James took his talents to South Beach linking up with Wade and Bosh and well, the rest is history there.

Today’s narrative is that the Bulls struck out in getting Boozer instead of the other available free agents but at the time, the move was pretty highly regarded. John Hollinger, former ESPN writer and current Memphis Grizzlies executive loved the move (Insider):

“The Bulls are paying a king’s ransom for Carlos Boozer, but he’s really a good value in this crazy market, writes John Hollinger.”

Forman also spoke highly of his new big man:

“We are confident that his skill set, toughness and leadership are all qualities that make him a great fit for the Bulls, and he will add a low-post element to our team that we have been searching for… Post players, with the skills that Carlos possesses, are at a premium in the NBA and we believe that we have landed one of the best big men in the NBA.”

Boozer’s first season with the Bulls was the most successful of the relationship. The re-energized Bulls made it to the Eastern Conference Finals with a first-time head coach in Tom Thibodeau and the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Derrick Rose. Boozer missed some time (23 games) but was a valuable piece on a team with the NBA’s best record. His Per-36 scoring fell from 20.5 his previous season in Utah to 19.8 as did his field goal percentage (56.2% to 51%) but overall, both parties appeared to be happy.

There were some criticisms about Boozer’s defense, lack of hustle sometimes but hey, the team was winning and he was a big part of it, who cares?

The cracks would start to show in 2011-12 as the Bulls once again took home the NBA’s best record and the number one seed in the Eastern Conference but Boozer’s numbers (both scoring and rebounding) fell even more. Worse yet, the Bulls lost their star, Rose, in the first round to a torn ACL. The microscope was on Boozer as one of the team leaders and the other guy making the big bucks on this Bulls team. His 3 point (1-11) performance in the Bulls first-round elimination game didn’t do him favors. The bloom was officially off the rose.

This began a two-year odyssey in Boozer become the whipping boy for all the Bulls problems — sometimes this was justified, sometimes not. Did the Bulls give up a layup? Probably that god damn Boozer again! Someone didn’t rotate probably… GET OVER THERE CARLOS. As a Bulls fan, I heard it all. No matter what the issue, somehow, someway Carlos was at fault. Again, some of these criticisms were absolutely justified but he became the scapegoat for a lot of issues in Chicago.

With that said, his run with the Bulls has to leave you disappointed. He simply was not the player the Bulls had hoped to acquire in the 2010 free agent bonanza. Here’s a few charts to show his rapid decline as a member of the Bulls. Of course, it’s worth stating the Bulls signed Boozer at age 29 and as Wages of Wins has pointed out, the 30-to-31 age change starts a rapid decline in most NBA players (-17%). Perhaps the Bulls should’ve known what they were getting into in signing Boozer, but some of these regressions are pretty alarming:

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One of Boozer’s biggest criticisms over the last few years has been his pretty pathetic defense. It’s hard to tell if Boozer was an unwilling defender or just lacked the instincts necessary to be an above-average one. He was slow to rotate, seemingly always late to adjust and quite often caught flat-footed. Chicago’s defense allowed 23.5 more points per 100 possessions when Boozer was on the floor during his four years with the team. My sources tell me that’s not good.

But he makes up for it in offense, you say? Well, not entirely. His first year in The Windy City the Bulls scored 3.6 more points per 100 possessions with him on the floor but the year’s after that: 3.2 points less, 0.4 points more and finally 4.2 points less this season.

Here’s a quick snapshot of Boozer’s effect on the offense and defense of Chicago and Utah when he was on the floor (only 2007-2008, data for 2006-07 was not available):

image (24)

What this graph shows is that while his defense was lacking while in Utah, his positive impact on offense helped soften the blow. We see a similar trend in his first two years in Chicago but in these last two seasons the once positive offensive impact has become overwhelmingly negative. It’s gotten so bad, that he was more of a drag on the Bulls offense last season than their defense — that’s pretty shocking.

The Bulls will try like hell to trade Boozer but if no suitors emerge, they have to amnesty Boozer. Paying $16.8 million for such a drain on both your offense and defense simply doesn’t make sense. Perhaps they can retain Boozer and use him off the bench but we saw his minutes cut to a non-rookie season low of 28.2 including an insane stretch at the end of the season where he played exactly 24 minutes — the first and third quarter. The Bulls brass doesn’t trust him anymore, the fans hate him and have taken to booing him at every chance (or maybe they are saying BOOOOZE!). The time is right for the Carlos Boozer era to end in Chicago.

  • Guest

    Great article. I’d even go as far to argue that the issues with Boozer really began to show up at the end of his first season. Perhaps I’m pulling a Clemens and “mis-remembering” a bit but wasn’t Thibs sitting Boozer and Noah quite a bit in crunch time down the stretch of games versus Miami in the ECF that first season? Boozer’s defensive issues or not, it’s never a good look to have your second highest paid player riding the pine pony in the season’s biggest moments and games.

    • Rich Kraetsch

      Thanks for reading. I was trying to recall exactly when the problems began and I think you are right, looking at the game logs it looks like he had his minutes cut the first few games of the Miami series and I do remember Taj and Asik getting Noah and Boozers’ minutes. However, games 4 and 5 of the Miami series Boozer played 35+ and scored 20… then he played 26 minutes and scored four in the elimination game. I do recall there being the start of “AAAH C’MON BOOZER” that year in the playoffs when he averaged only 12 PPG and was losing playing time to the Taj/Asik combo.

    • Rich Kraetsch

      Thanks for reading. I was trying to recall exactly when the problems began and I think you are right, looking at the game logs it looks like he had his minutes cut the first few games of the Miami series and I do remember Taj and Asik getting Noah and Boozers’ minutes. However, games 4 and 5 of the Miami series Boozer played 35+ and scored 20… then he played 26 minutes and scored four in the elimination game. I do recall there being the start of “AAAH C’MON BOOZER” that year in the playoffs when he averaged only 12 PPG and was losing playing time to the Taj/Asik combo.

  • Jeremy

    From a Utah perspective we say Boozer work hard to set himself for a good free agency position. Once he had his contract, he left us in the dust and lost his fire to play hard. He had his check, so why bother? In Utah we feel like the developmental league for the big money teams. Ugh. I know that far less analytical than your great numbers breakdown, but it seemed pretty darn apparent that he was a different player after the honeymoon period on his new team.

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