Millsap, Boozer thrown for a loop
The Jazz still have Carlos Boozer and Paul Millsap as their power forwards
Boozer figured he'd be traded over the summer -- making Millsap the starter
Utah isn't letting Boozer's offseason comments become a distraction
LOS ANGELES -- This wasn't the way the season was supposed to begin for Paul Millsap. It's about a week before Utah's season opener and Millsap is sitting in the middle of the bench, his arms folded, as the Jazz tip off a preseason game against the Clippers. In the offseason, Millsap signed a four-year, $32 million offer sheet with the Trail Blazers, and after Utah matched it, he hoped he would be the Jazz's new starting power forward.
This wasn't the way the season was supposed to begin for Carlos Boozer either. It's late October and the two-time All-Star power forward is still in Utah. In the offseason, Boozer reversed course and decided to exercise his $12.7 million option rather than become a free agent, and he then said he anticipated a trade and wanted to play in Miami or Chicago. But the Jazz retained Boozer, creating a $23 million logjam at power forward.
Can you say, awkward?
Utah wasn't bargaining for this, both financially and in terms of dividing minutes between a well-established player in Boozer, who has averaged at least 20 points and 10 rebounds twice, and an up-and-comer in Millsap, who averaged 16 points and 10.3 rebounds in 38 starts last season and whose streak of 19 double-doubles was the NBA's longest since 2006. Until Boozer gets traded, however, which won't likely happen until close to February's trade deadline (if at all), the Jazz will have to find time for both.
"It's not going to be tough or awkward, not at all," insisted Boozer, who missed 45 games last season, clearing the way for Millsap to flourish as a starter. "I come back with the same players and the same coaches, and everyone is happy to have me here and I'm happy to be here. This happens every summer. People speculate about this and say that, but at the end of the day, I'm here so I'm no worried about that. The summer is over for me."
The only problem is that it wasn't simply "people" who were speculating and saying things over the summer about a possible Boozer trade; it was Boozer himself. At one point, Boozer reportedly said that he and the Jazz had "mutually agreed" to a trade, and that it would be "a beautiful thing'" if he wound up playing for Miami, where he has an offseason home. He was similarly excited about the prospect of joining the Bulls.
When a trade didn't materialize, the Jazz were left to welcome back a player who had basically packed his bags and had one foot out the door. But it was nothing new for longtime coach Jerry Sloan, who used to have similar issues with Karl Malone that got resolved before training camp. Like he did with Malone, Sloan sat down with Boozer before the team's first practice and outlined where they stood and what they had to do to move on.
"Boozer came in before we got on the floor and I said, 'You're here to play, I'm here to coach and our job is to try to win,' " said Sloan, who is entering his 22nd season as Utah coach. "That's what you ask them to do. If you're going to carry it on, it's going to be tough. The biggest thing is to play and do your job the best way you can and let that stuff go. I don't know how else to handle it."
For the time being, everyone seems to be handling it well -- even Millsap, whose opportunity to become a full-time NBA starter is on hold in this, his fourth season.
"My time will come when I will start, but for now I just have to play a major role on this team coming off the bench," Millsap said. "I just have to keep a steady head about it and stay positive."
As much as Millsap, 24, wants to be a starter, he isn't upset at Boozer, 27, for staying and keeping his spot. In fact, the two are good friends, sitting beside each other in the locker room and on the bench during timeouts. The two will also be on the court together this season, with Boozer capable of playing some center and Millsap versatile enough to slide to small forward against certain matchups.
"We have fun together," Boozer said. "We're both strong, we're both really explosive and we can play defense pretty good together. ... The good thing is we have a deep team so we can mix up our lineups a little bit."
Despite Boozer's offseason comments, the Jazz have put aside the potential distraction, and he's reclaimed his leadership role along with point guard Deron Williams. The two have an Odd Couple-like relationship at times in the locker room. Before Saturday's loss to the Clippers, Williams peeked above the sports section he was reading and joked about Boozer's blasting the music from his headphones. That prompted Boozer to belt out his Eddie Murphy-like laugh.
"We're like family in here," Boozer said. "We all get along and have a good time. We have great chemistry that you can only get with having the same group of guys for a few years."
With eight key players still around from the team that reached the Western Conference finals three years ago, there is not only a comfort level but also a belief that if they can stay healthy (and intact), the Jazz have a chance to get back there this season. Last season, injuries forced Sloan to use 20 starting lineups, twice as many as the year before.
"It's a business and it's something that happened; we all understand and now we can move on and play basketball," Williams said of how the summer played out with Boozer and Millsap. "[Boozer] opted to come back because he wanted to be here, and that's how we attack it. We also paid [Millsap] the big money and he deserves to be on the court. We're going to have to find ways to play him and use him effectively. It's going to be something tough that coach has to deal with, but hopefully we can just stay healthy this season and do some damage."
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