The one good thing about having your reputation ruined when the world thinks you double-crossed a blind man during public contract negotiations is that you have nowhere to go but up. Sure, everyone looks at you sideways and cracks jokes at your expense, but the pressure to be perfect and the expectation that you’ll rise to the moment in big situations is lifted. That’s not a trade-off most people would make, but once it happens things could be worse.
That’s been the situation for Chicago Bulls forward Carlos Boozer. For the past four years, Boozer put up solid playoff numbers for the Utah Jazz, teaming up with Deron Williams to advance out of the first round three times. Never really seen as the centerpiece, Boozer nevertheless averaged roughly a 20/12 over his playoff career in Utah, numbers that are mostly forgotten because they came with the help of an elite point guard and, frankly, because they took place for a small market team.
|Eastern Conference Finals: Heat vs. Bulls|
After joining the Bulls this past summer, Boozer got a taste of the big-city spotlight and it hasn’t gone over perfectly. He broke his hand mysteriously before the season, forcing him to miss 20 games, and has battled turf toe during the playoffs. His playoff numbers scoring number is way down – he’s averaging just 11.8 points per game while playing roughly the same number of minutes as he did during the regular season. Despite the fact that he continues to keep his rebounding near double figures, he’s a running punch line and punching bag for Bulls fans, who obviously expected more from their $80 million man.
Whether he actually views it this way or not, Boozer should approach the Eastern Conference finals as if he has nothing to lose. If the Bulls are eliminated he will be at or near the top of the scapegoat list regardless of how he plays. That much has already been cemented. Should the Bulls win, however, he’s got a chance to soak in some of the Derrick Rose media glow sunshine and rehabilitate/recast himself as a hard-working veteran who hung around long enough and played his game long enough to get his shot at a ring. That’s not a bad trade-off.
Even better, Boozer isn’t enough the most highly-paid, disappointing and unreliable power forward in this series. That honor goes to Heat forward Chris Bosh, of course, who will be crucified and buried should Miami not advance. Boozer should have a physicality advantage and he certainly has a more physical frontline surrounding him. Bosh enters the series with a tougher personal assignment given Miami’s thin center rotation and the Chicago’s commitment to hard-nosed defense and rebounding.
So what’s at stake for Boozer here? Given that this is Chicago’s first playoff run together and doubts are already high, he just doesn’t have much to lose. If he throws together a big series, the United Center fans that were booing him earlier during the playoffs will surely rally around him. If not, he was the bad guy anyway.