Lakers' Gamble on Humbled Carlos Boozer Could Help End or Rebuild His Career

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Lakers' Gamble on Humbled Carlos Boozer Could Help End or Rebuild His Career
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif.  It’d be pretty funny if the Los Angeles Lakers made a token salary bid in the Carlos Boozer amnesty auction, assuming their offer at about half the average salary couldn’t possibly be the best one for a guy who averaged 13.7 points and 8.3 rebounds in just 28 minutes for one of the league’s better teams last season.

Imagine the surprise in the Lakers’ second-floor offices upon being told Boozer was theirs after the blind bidding, with Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss perhaps staring blankly at each other and realizing they totally didn’t want someone reputed to be a low-motor, defensively disinterested, slow-to-heal, unathletic kind of selfish dude.

It’d be even funnier if Kupchak’s actual quotes at Boozer’s introductory press conference Friday were meant to convey that scenario wherein they regretted getting him.

“Unexpectedly for us, our bid was the highest,” the Lakers’ general manager said.

“Not for a second did we think that he’d be available to us,” he added.

Thing is, Kupchak also said about Boozer: “I know he’s going to have a great year.”

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

So there you have it: The Lakers really did want Boozer at a discounted price—even though he has been viewed in a pretty negative light for years by most who follow the NBA.

The basis for all the criticism is Boozer—not unlike guys such as Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Jeremy Lin—didn’t come close to earning his outsized contract. There is little that we find more galling than a rich person who shouldn’t be rich.

Boozer has made at least $10 million per season for 10 consecutive years, though he does have two All-Star berths in that stretch. After the Chicago Bulls—with two standout big men in Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, to be fair—found use for Boozer last season in only the first and third quarters at the rate of $15.3 million, his value was solidified at this low, low price for a limited time only.

Accordingly, the Lakers got Boozer at just $3.25 million—the NBA average is around $6.1 million—and they feel pretty certain they got a one-year bargain who fits their future salary-cap-saving plan when they’re paying Jordan Hill $9 million for one year and the Bulls are paying clearly declining 34-year-old Pau Gasol $22.3 million total for the next three years. (The Bulls still have to pay the remaining $13.55 million of what Boozer was due next season, though his salary doesn’t count against their cap.)

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Boozer said Friday he has been encouraged by Bryant to “come ready to lead, come ready to surprise some people.”

Kupchak mentioned Boozer, 32, planning to play up to five more years—and Boozer followed that up by suggesting he might play seven more. Boozer said he is “very confident” he will recapture more of his prior form while acknowledging he has been “humbled a lot” and knows he carries a tarnished image.

“I have a lot to prove,” he said.

Lakers fans so looking forward to rookie Julius Randle’s development will cringe even more to hear that Boozer “absolutely” expects to start for the Lakers at power forward.

But Boozer did refer to Randle as “a stud”—and said the same about newcomer Ed Davis, too. Said Boozer: “We have a lot of talent inside.”

The Lakers would be fine with it if Boozer regains more of his post-up game and develops a dependable chemistry with Lin instead of slipping further into just settling for jumpers. No one is assuming Boozer will morph into a great team or individual defender, and Boozer showed awareness of his weakness in looking forward specifically to playing alongside Davis because he is “a good rim protector.”

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

There are three ways this can go from here:

  • Boozer is deeply motivated by the slights and not only comes into camp in his usual excellent shape but also carries consistent energy all over the court en route to providing outstanding bang for the Lakers’ buck.
  • Boozer stands around on defense, jumping only to steal stat-stuffing rebounds from his own teammates and timidly shoots around 43 percent from the field while wondering why he’s not being showcased more.
  • Boozer accepts a role as a periodic producer depending on how good the younger big men turn out to be, and in a contract year (with an eye toward playing up to six years after this one) he gives improved effort on defense while doing well the things he has always done well.

Kupchak predicting outright that Boozer is going to have a great year indicates the Lakers believe the odds are that they at least get the third option.

If so, even getting that little from him will surprise many.

If not? Well, it’d be awesome if Kupchak then comes out and says, “Our Boozer bid was less than half of what the Hornets paid Marvin Williams! Who knew we would get stuck with this bum?!”

Kevin Ding covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.

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