Does Carlos Boozer Really Deserve Punch-Line Status?

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Does Carlos Boozer Really Deserve Punch-Line Status?

The announcement that the Los Angeles Lakers had won the bidding process on Carlos Boozer was largely met by derision from fans as well as media pundits.

Initial sentiments ran the gamut from the signing being a pure joke to the idea that Boozer’s deteriorating game might actually play into management’s tank plan.

In fact, the overwhelming reaction seemed to favor punch-line status over any positive benefit that an experienced frontcourt player could bring. It tapped into a collective zeitgeist that Boozer is the man you simply love to hate.

After starting every game he appeared in for the Chicago Bulls over a five-season stretch, the burly power forward was amnestied in order to alleviate luxury tax penalties as well as make room for newly signed big man Pau Gasol. The winning bid was a modest $3.25 million—a pittance compared to the total amount of Boozer’s salary of $16.8 million.

Yet the complaints rained down fast and furious—he’s over the hill, doesn’t play defense and completely failed to deliver in the playoffs last season.

In an article for The Cauldron, Andy Kamenetzky works through a devolution of summer decisions that ultimately leaves him asking whether Lakers management has abandoned a steady, methodical rebuild in favor of a few empty-calorie wins:  

Now nearly 33, Boozer clearly has zero future with Los Angeles. Ironically, though, as an amnesty claim, he now cannot be traded this season. This means that he’s not even useful as a deadline asset. He’s simply a 'name' who serves no other purpose but maintaining appearances. He bolsters the perception that the Lakers refuse to miss the postseason two consecutive seasons, even with a potential top-five-protected lottery pick in the balance.

And yet, there’s the matter of numbers. Jordan Hill averaged 9.7 points and 7.4 rebounds for the Lakers last season and was re-signed for $9 million. He’s a young, high-energy big man who plays best in short spurts. Boozer, on the other hand, averaged 13.7 points and 8.3 boards last season as a starter.

Should the idea of paying Boozer a fraction of Hill’s salary be treated like the final nail in the Lakers’ coffin—before the season even starts?

There’s a growing sense among longtime Lakers observers that the numbers mask a greater truth—that Boozer won’t help fill in the minute gaps at Hill’s center position because he’s a true power forward and that, in fact, his presence will simply absorb minutes that could be going to help develop young players who actually have a future with the organization—namely Julius Randle and Ryan Kelly.

Kevin Ding for Bleacher Report writes that the outcry by fans against Boozer is basically a byproduct of parenting—that management has spoiled its children through a high standard of living. And while Ding questions whether Boozer should take away from the development time of young players, he poses a credible argument for easing the demands on young rookies:

Boozer gives the Lakers the kind of proven big-man scoring option that they don't have among the group of Jordan Hill, Julius Randle, Ed Davis, Robert Sacre and probably Ryan Kelly. Boozer's defensive shortcomings could also be muted if he plays next to a shot-blocker in Hill or Davis at all times.

L.A. needed additional frontcourt help to be sure—Davis, Sacre and Kelly aren’t exactly premium names in the NBA. But the Boozer backlash isn’t only about logic, it’s a reaction to many factors—Gasol leaving, the inability of the Lakers to sign any elite talent this summer and the fact that fans just generally don’t seem to like this guy.

Whether you believe the $3.25 million spent on Boozer is worth it or not, it isn’t a gross overpayment for a player of his experience who is still putting up decent stats. And, it’s only a one-year deal so what’s the harm, really?

The problem is a matter of timing. Coming off a train wreck of a season, the Lakers seemed to be moving forward by selecting Randle, as well as a solid second-round steal in Jordan Clarkson. And while they were unable to sign an elite free agent, they at least traded for a consolation prize in Jeremy Lin, who fills a need at the point guard position and was accompanied by a future first-round draft pick.

But then came Boozer and, regardless of experience, there’s no getting away from a declining game and defensive liabilities that caused him to be held out of the end of games with the Bulls because, after all, stops do matter.

The Lakers are walking a dangerous tightrope—somewhere between building for the future and hoping to at least make it into the playoffs, whether to appease Kobe Bryant or the fans or both. Add the fact that management hasn’t even made a commitment to a head coach yet, and the result is a strange vacuum between the end of one season and the beginning of the next.

Imagine a parallel universe in which Phil Jackson were somehow the current coach of the Lakers. The Boozer signing would have a whole different spin, as the Zen Master would find the proper role for a player on the downside of his career—because that’s what Jackson did with castoffs.

But for now, there is no buffer, there is no coach, there is only news from the front lines of who is and isn’t being signed. And so, the signing of Carlos Boozer was met with predictable skepticism.

Is it deserving? Honest criticism is always deserving. Perhaps the punch lines have been somewhat reactionary. That’s okay—Boozer will get an opportunity to state his case on the floor when the season rolls along.

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