Don't panic, Bulls fans. It can only get better from here.
Boozer signed with the Bulls two summers ago for a five-year, $80 million contract and has generally been considered a failure so far. Last season, he averaged 15.0 points per game, the lowest since his rookie year.
His defense is also the weakest on the team—according to Synergy Sports Tech, Boozer allows .89 points per possession, 302nd worst in the league. (For comparison, fellow starter Joakim Noah allows .86 points per possession, which ranks him at 240th overall. Taj Gibson off the bench allows .77 points per possession, good for 65th.)
Not exactly a ringing endorsement, right? Again, it can only get better from here.
Chicago had a chance this offseason to wipe Boozer's contract off the books thanks to the amnesty clause. They could have paid him to go away, and found some other team to absorb part of the $47.1 million left on his contract (salary information is credit to Sham Sports). While no team in the league would even consider taking on Boozer's full contract, you can bet a bunch of teams would have jumped at the chance to have him for an amnestied contract. The Dallas Mavericks, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein, secured the services of Elton Brand via amnesty for $2.1 million this season, leaving the Philadelphia 76ers to pay Brand the rest of his $18.1 million contract.
And despite the fact that the Bulls are without star Derrick Rose for most of the season, who is doing rehabilitation from his ACL tear suffered in May (according to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, a safe estimate for Rose's return is March), the Bulls are sticking with it. There was the idea floating around the sports world that the Bulls should trade forward Luol Deng, amnesty Boozer's contract and spend the year rebuilding.
The Bulls, however, have stayed pat. And while we can only guess at how the Bulls' record will turn out without Rose for the first five months of the season, it's clear that Chicago is confident they can survive until his return. And at the heart of that decision lies an apparent confidence in Boozer.
Can Boozer be that top option and thrive until Rose comes back? He's been that go-to guy plenty of times before.
The Bulls will now have to structure their offense to fit Boozer, and it may actually help that Rose isn't on the floor. When Boozer was in Utah (where he played six seasons and averaged 19.26 over those six seasons), he played with Deron Williams, a vastly different point guard than Rose. Rose is a very willing passer, but he is also a slasher point guard who clogs up the lane and brings defenders in the post with him. Perhaps in an unclogged lane, Boozer will find more space to be effective.
The Bulls will start Kirk Hinrich in Rose's absence, and Hinrich is a much more perimeter-oriented point guard. He's not the passer Rose is, but he's a smart floor general and should fare well in Chicago.
But when it boils down to it, the Bulls must know that Boozer is their best hope of winning games. Luol Deng is a talented offensive player, but he's barely a No. 2 option, let alone a top option offensively. Furthermore, Deng was part of a ton of trade rumors during the NBA Draft, chronicled here by SBNation.com. We know the Bulls considered moving on without Deng... how much did they consider amnestying Boozer? We'll never know, but you have to expect that the Bulls are aware and comfortable with the knowledge that Boozer is now their go-to guy.
It could fail, of course. Boozer could continue to struggle to score, continue to flake on defense and the Bulls could fall apart without Rose as their anchor. Like I said earlier, it's absolutely easy to make the argument that the Bulls needed to amnesty Boozer this offseason.
But they didn't. Like him or not, Chicago is giving Boozer a chance to lead the team. Hopefully he takes advantage of it.