Boozer returns to All-Star form, but few care to notice
Carlos Boozer is posting All-Star-caliber stats so far this season for the Jazz
It marks a complete turnaround from the offseason controversies and injuries
But the reputation he built in the offseason has hurt his recognition on the court
You could point to Carlos Boozer's impressive stats and Utah's key victories as evidence of his All-Star-caliber season. The 18 double-doubles that rank third in the NBA, the 21.3 points and 10.9 rebounds he's averaged since mid-November, the Jazz's 16-12 record despite injuries to several key players -- yep, all appear reason enough to dub Boozer an All-Star. Again.
"He's been back to his old self," said Ronnie Brewer. "The same double-double guy you expect every game, All-Star-caliber power forward -- Why should he not be on the All-Star team?"
Brewer knows those figures intimately. They reflect the Boozer he grew accustomed to seeing during back-to-back All-Star seasons in 2007 and '08, before an injury to Boozer's left quadriceps tendon held him out for more than half of last season.
But few outside the Jazz locker room have embraced Boozer's game this season. While his performances reflect a full recovery from the injury that wore him down last season, and his behavior suggests a recommitment to a team he once seemed determined to leave, Boozer's early success has nearly played out in national anonymity.
When fan voting for the All-Star game was released earlier this month, Boozer's name hadn't even cracked the top 10. Sure, that may be an abysmal benchmark for player performance -- Tracy McGrady, who just returned to Houston's lineup after sitting out since February with a knee injury, is currently second among guards in Western Conference voting. But Boozer has also rarely caught the eyes of national pundits despite being named Western Conference Player of the Week earlier this month.
Instead, his numbers have, at times, been blown off as selfishly motivated by pending free-agency, or suggested to be short-lived since an injury -- something with which Boozer has an extensive history -- is surely close by. He has even drawn accusations of being a locker-room agitator at the source of some of the Jazz's struggles -- a point to which commentator Charles Barkley brought up in recent weeks when he grilled Jazz point guard Deron Williams about it during a live broadcast.
"We don't worry about that," Boozer said of Barkley's accusations. "We're a close-knit group of guys. We go out there, play hard together, compete for each other. Obviously he's been in the league for a long time, so he thinks we have more turmoil than we actually have."
Unfortunately for Boozer, that perception is grounded in his own words.
It started midway through last season, when Boozer told a reporter that he planned to opt out of the final year of his contract, aiming to get himself a raise. The statement became an easy point of criticism when Boozer missed 45 games with his quadriceps tendon injury, and it sparked fresh flames when he opted to remain in Utah and collect his $12.7 million salary rather than test a tight free-agency market. And once trade rumors began swirling, Boozer helped push them into overdrive by telling reporters he and the Jazz had mutually agreed to a trade while listing Miami as his preferred destination.
It painted the public picture of a disgruntled and self-centered star -- descriptions that have been inconsistent with Boozer's current performances.
The self-serving "elephant in the room," as Barkley described him, is posting a career high 3.5 assists per game -- more than a full assist over his career average -- while scoring 19.8 per game on 54.5 percent shooting. Add to that 10.8 rebounds a game and Boozer's 2009-10 showing is comparable to his All-Star seasons of '07 and '08. His numbers have also eased the pain of losses to Kyle Korver and Andrei Kirilenko to injuries.
And signs of dysfunction aren't apparent during brief visits inside the Jazz locker room. The affable Boozer jokes and laughs with teammates while greeting reporters warmly, showing the side that Williams defended against Barkley's questioning, and that other teammates back up as well.
"There's no bad blood between anybody on this team towards him," Brewer said. "We knew when he was here and he came to media day, he was here for the long haul. You couldn't control any of the [offseason controversies]. But since he's been back, he's worked hard. Early in the year he struggled a little bit, but as of late he's playing phenomenal."
Boozer's return to form has made it tougher to write him off -- both by skeptics and the Jazz. A bloated luxury tax was one of the original reasons the Jazz were expected to trade Boozer at their earliest opportunity, since his decision to opt in for this season helped the team accrue a $15-million tab. But his performances and his desire to stay put, makes it more financially sound for Utah to retain him.
"I'm motivated already by stuff I want to achieve, both for myself and for my team," Boozer said. "I'm not gonna worry about [the future] at all. I'm thinking about today."
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