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The NBA hasn't released its 2004-05 schedule yet, but that shouldn't stop loyal Cavaliers fans from their preparations. Get that oil a-boiling. Carlos Boozer and the Utah Jazz will be in town at some point, for one night only, and all of Cleveland had better be ready to welcome that traitor with appropriate sound and fury. Hoist him up on the nearest yard-arm. Cover him in red ants. Make him drink Lake Erie water.
Boozer is Public Enemy No. 1 in Cleveland. He's hated more than John Elway, Michael Jordan, Edgar Renteria and the dozens of other athletes who have broken northern Ohio fans' hearts over the years. It's all due to his decision to chase the cash and sign an offer sheet with the Jazz, whose new, clean, boring uniforms are perfect for new, clean, boring Salt Lake City. If you're a Cavs fan, Boozer is a money-grubbing lout who went back on his word to kindly, blind team owner Gordon Gund and altar-boy general manager Jim Paxson.
If you're objective and understand how the NBA works, you realize Boozer is far from the evil, lying narcissist the Cavs are trying to convince us he is. And the Cavs are far from the NBA version of the bumbling Duke brothers, who get stuck by Louis Winthorpe and Billy Ray Valentine on frozen orange juice futures. Both parties tried to win big in this deal, and both sides ended up losing. Of course, Boozer is losing with $68 million in his bankbook, but he has suffered a defeat, nonetheless.
Cleveland took the most tangible hit. Instead of picking up Boozer's 2004-05 option for $695,000 and then paying market rate for the power forward next year in the free-agent market, the Cavs tried to get assurances from Boozer, his wife, CeCe, and agent Rob Pelinka that Boozer wanted to stay in Cleveland, even at a price millions below what the market would bear. According to Gund, the Boozers said several times that they wanted to be in Cleveland, that Gund and Paxson could trust them and that long-term security was the Boozers' goal. Some went so far as to applaud the Cavs for paying Boozer $5 million-plus this year, instead of the $695,000. What altruists. Of course, the goal was to get Boozer at a discount. Once the Jazz weighed in with a $68 million offer -- $26 mil more than the Cavs could give -- Boozer began to see what was going on. He also heard a member of the Cavs' organization say that he didn't think Boozer could become an All-Star in Cleveland. So, Boozer looked around. And the Cavaliers were in trouble.
Now, the Cavs have lost their power forward. Worse, they have angered LeBron James. And they had better get a viable Plan B in place pretty soon, or they risk losing the NBA's biggest name in a few years when his current contract runs out. Gund and Paxson shouldn't try to sell this "Boozer is a traitor" stuff to Bron-Bron. In the NBA, the players all want top dollar, so nobody is going to get angry at another guy who gets paid.
Boozer's loss is far harder to quantify. His portfolio is certainly not a loser. And, contrary to those sports moralists out there who are ripping Boozer's decision on an ethical basis, neither is his character. This, like Michael Corleone reminded us again and again, was about business. And, as Shaq reinforced lately, the NBA is a cutthroat business.
No, what Boozer has lost here is his innocence. He'll go to Utah and pound the boards, help the Jazz continue their post-Stockton/Malone renaissance and do so without fear of any karmic retribution. But he does so after making a decision that has caused him great internal upheaval. Boozer didn't just grab the money. He chose the Jazz over a franchise he knew was trying to get him for less than he was worth and was using words like "trust" to make him feel bad if he left. In the end, Boozer learned a valuable lesson about the business of the NBA. He got top dollar, but he must now endure the slings and arrows of critics, angry fans and Gund, who is trying to paint himself as a kindly patrician owner who was double-crossed, instead of a successful businessman who lost out in a high-stakes poker game.
At age 23, while some of his former college buddies are still living the easy life, Boozer is all grown up. He's rich, but he is hardened.
The NBA can do that to you.
This doesn't compute
Later today, college football's Politburo will announce the revised BCS formula, which it claims is better than ever and would have solved every previous problem that the ridiculous system spawned over the past few years. Of course, that doesn't mean that USC will get a chance to play LSU for the 2003 national title. Or that Nebraska's spot in the '01 "title" game against Miami would have been taken by Oregon.
Instead, we'll hear that the answer to all of college football's problems is a greater reliance on the polls. That's right, the polls. Forget that the BCS was created to end the myriad problems spawned by the polls and their nasty brethren, the bowl games. Forget that the polls are about the least dependable method of determining which team is best. Let's just go back to the old days and let sportwriters and sports information directors rank the teams. What's next, the return of the wishbone?
In its latest incarnation, the BCS equation is split three ways. Each of the polls weighs a third, and the average of six computer rankings gets a third. It's clean. It's easy. It stinks.
Keep in mind how the polls really work. The media members voting in the AP version are often beat writers who see one game a week. They follow one team closely for a whole season and don't know Toledo from Tennessee, except for what their age-old prejudices tell them: No MAC club could possibly be better than a school from the SEC. So, they watch highlights, read a little and then rank the schools. Oh, and did we mention that most of them (El Hombre included; although he would never vote in one of those things) never even played high school football before? Coaches love that.
The coaches don't get off easy here, either. They're even more myopic than the scribes and TV types. They focus exclusively on their team and the upcoming opponent. Period. If they're in the Big 12, they couldn't care less what's going on in the Big East -- not that anybody else does these days, now that the ACC has taken all the good schools and made commissioner Mike Tranghese's league no better than the Mountain West. They might pick the top five -- might -- but then it's up to the SIDs or perhaps the family dog.
The computers see everything, and they're still wrong. This October, study a couple of the rankings from the pocket-protector crowd. Count how many teams are rated below schools they have already defeated. You'll probably stop after 10 or so.
So, that's the big news. College football is saved. By the polls. God help us all.
EL HOMBRE SEZ: The NFL has forced the Arizona Cardinals to suspend their "involuntary" workouts a week early, after some of the team's players complained that they were too hard. No wonder the team isn't any good. Denny Green's trying to improve things, and the players rebel. Set the over/under on total wins in '04 for the Cards at six -- and take the under.
AND ANOTHER THING: Baseball starts its unofficial second half tonight, and the drama is building. Just kidding. But it was interesting to see that commissioner Bud Selig picked the day of the Home Run Derby to say how committed he is to getting rid of steroids. It's no coincidence that the vast majority of big leaguers haven't been tested yet this year. Selig and his minions don't want another high percentage of positives, so he's giving everybody a chance to get clean. He can talk all he wants about the sport's good health, but until it does something about its drug problem, baseball remains a joke.
El Hombre pursues truth and justice in the world of sports from his headquarters in suburban Philadelphia.