This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The scenario isn't perfect, the timing not great, for The Return.
It might have been, had the Jazz held up their end of the deal, the way they had done over the first 10 weeks of the season, when the winning came easy and the gloating even easier. But their recent swoon has taken some of the dressing out of the window, the one with the hanging neon light that sarcastically reads:
Welcome back, Carlos.
Like a flickering beer sign fronting an old saloon, some of the noble gas has been let out of the once-luminous bent tubes heralding the invitation that mocks. But not enough, nowhere near enough, for the sign to go dark.
There's too much emotion left over in the vapor trail of Carlos Boozer, even seven months after the power forward who was supposed to become Karl Malone instead became Snuggles the Bear. People here can't simply sniff at his first appearance at EnergySolutions Arena with his new team, the Chicago Bulls, on Wednesday night.
The way many fans here figure it, even if Boozer had stayed with the Jazz, there would have been a decent chance he might not have played much through the first few months of this season, given his record for injury: foot, hamstring, knee, abdomen, hangnail, general soreness, boo-boos of all kinds.
Boo-Boozer missed nearly a third of his games while with the Jazz, and missed none of his million-dollar paychecks. It wasn't so much that the man was hurt a lot, it was the opaque nature of his injuries, injuries that lingered, injuries that required multiple medical opinions, injuries that kept him out of key games, that drove the popular-opinion bus here straight through the edge of suspicion.
Add to it his dispassionate manner, a bearing that constantly belied his talk of teamwork and championships, alongside a thirst for more cash, a raise no matter what, and trust evaporated among fans and teammates.
Disingenuous is the descriptive word that fits best.
Boozer was forever Boozer Inc., the chairman of an endeavor that had itself as its top priority. He cared more about himself as an investment than about his team as a contender. That's hardly rare among players in the NBA. But it is a huge detriment to a team that counts on that player as one of its two pillars. Think of Michael Jordan or Tim Duncan or Malone or Kevin Garnett or Dwyane Wade without the competitive care factor. That was Boozer.
Too often, then, Deron Williams was left alone to bolster the building.
That's why so many Jazz fans have a problem with Boozer. Not because of some unsophisticated small-time, small-town attitude of jilted love, rather on account of a strong, gifted player coming here, saying the right things, and then taking the easy path, taking too many nights off, taking off too many stands at the defensive end, taking the money, and taking the easy ride out of Dodge.
And that's why people will boo Boozer on Wednesday night.
He put up numbers on most of the nights he played. He had a terrific playoff run one postseason. But even his teammates couldn't and didn't count on him to consistently deliver when they needed delivering. He was absent and indifferent too much of the time.
So far in Chicago, Boozer has averaged 19.7 points and 10 rebounds. He's missed 18 games because of injuries, including one that occurred supposedly when he tripped over a bag at his home, slamming his fist on a hard floor. Since he already has signed a hefty contract through the prime of his career, maybe the 29-year-old Boozer will now focus more on basketball. Maybe. The Bulls, who have surrounded him with solid defenders, are 34-16.
The Jazz would like to be able to say they don't miss Boozer, but on certain nights they do, especially of late, on the boards and at the offensive end. After starting 24-11, the Jazz have recently sputtered, going 7-11, leaking that gas out of their neon tubes.
Still, Boozer remains what he was with the Jazz a useful player, when he's available, who cannot be trusted as a team leader bumped off course as he is by injuries, distracted by other priorities to lift the franchise when the heavy lifting has to be done. He can play a role, he can build up hope, but what about heart? The Bulls won't win a championship, and probably won't come close, as long as they have to get primary support out of their power forward.
That's why fans in Chicago will one day boo Boozer, too.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Gordon Monson Show" weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 104.7 FM/1280 AM The Zone. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.