A sea of red infiltrated Conseco Fieldhouse as the Chicago Bulls prepared to eliminate the hometown Pacers in Game 4 of the 2011 NBA Playoffs. As I walked through the tunnel to my media seat, all I could hear was this egregious yelling.
"LET'S GO LU!! I SEE YOU D-ROSE!! WE GON' DO THIS TAJ??? I SEE YOU JO!!"
There was Carlos Boozer, swinging his leg next to the wall as he got loose before the game. He bounced on his toes, and as players began to walk past him, he screamed all their names. His teammates, seemingly used to this recurring practice, just nodded their heads and went about their business. Yet Boozer just kept screaming, unacknowledged, as the Bulls took the court for pre-game warmups.
I'd never heard a human being yell that loud.
Carlos Boozer isn't quite as loud these days. The man has decided to say little to the media as he deals with a diminished role and the possibility of being shown the door in the offseason to bring Carmelo Anthony or someone else to the Windy City.
This was inadvertently initiated by Joakim Noah. Noah's high-level facilitating has helped potential Boozer replacement Taj Gibson emerge, but Noah is also the one who reportedly spoke with Anthony about joining the Bulls. And Anthony doesn't get to Chicago unless the front office pulls their Get Out Of Jail Kinda Sorta Free Amnesty Card on Boozer. If the reports are true -- Noah denied them in hilarious fashion -- Boozer's fellow big man on the block served him up as a sacrificial lamb, even if he was probably right to do so.
So, it's not a reach to understand why Boozer's so testy.
More on Boozer
More on Boozer
It seems so long ago that Boozer was a two-time All-Star with the Utah Jazz, set up with an elite point guard (Deron Williams) and an offensive system (Jerry Sloan's) that helped make him one of the best power forwards in the league. From 2006 to 2010, Boozer averaged 20 points and 11 rebounds on 55 percent shooting. While everyone remembers "The Decision" with LeBron James, the other story of the 2010 free agency bonanza was the power forward lottery that included Boozer, Amar'e Stoudemire and Chris Bosh.
It's fascinating to think what would've happened to Boozer if he went to Miami or New York instead of Chicago. What we know now is that Boozer landed on a Bulls team that featured a point guard in Derrick Rose who is a phenomenal talent, but doesn't distribute in ways that prime Williams did. Defense has never been Boozer's strong suit, and although he's made strides to become sufficient for Tom Thibodeau's system, he's just not as good as Noah or Gibson. As a result, Boozer's nightly line has declined to a rate of 16 points and nine rebounds on just 49 percent shooting since signing in Chicago. If Boozer was searching for the ideal team for his skill set, it wasn't the Bulls. (It's hard to turn down $75 million over five years, though.)
But Boozer can still help Chicago wreck the plans of other title contenders. Yes, the Bulls are giving Boozer's fourth-quarter minutes to Gibson, and Boozer's dealt with injuries (calf strain) as of late. Still, Boozer as the Bulls' third-best big man is an amazing asset, and that should serve them well in their upcoming playoff run. Plus, Boozer is the ultimate teammate, something Thibodeau noted recently when asked about Boozer's struggles this year:
"You're always faced with stuff like that through the course of a season. You have to deal with it if you feel like it's impacting the team in a negative way. But Carlos is an old pro. He's been around a long time, so he's doing a good job with everything.''
Along with continuing to win and securing a good playoff seed, the Bulls must make sure Boozer is back to his old gregarious self. They need to make sure he's the man who's yelling at folks for no apparent reason, always making those shocked faces when the referees call a foul on him and nailing those 17-footers with no regard for human life. If the Bulls find a way to make some noise in these playoffs, I can guarantee Boozer's will be the first voice we hear.
Happy Hour drink recommendation: Alaska Cocktail. Carlos Boozer is from Alaska, but you know who else hooped that was from Alaska? Trajan Langdon. Being a light-skinned young black man during the Alaskan Assassin era, I revered the man in all of his three-point awesomeness.
For that reason alone, order this drink, then tell people you are The Alaskan Assassin. (On second thought, don't do that. Please don't go to jail because you wanted to order a delicious cocktail and make a basketball reference. Not worth it.)