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This summer Carlos Boozer had to pass a phalanx of paparazzi nearly every day. The Jazz forward was working out at trainer Gunnar Peterson's Beverly Hills compound, and the cameramen would lie in wait for the fitness guru's high-profile clients, including Jennifer Lopez, Sylvester Stallone and Mary J. Blige. Boozer didn't get much interest from the paparazzi, which says something about his 2004-05 season.
The former second-round pick of the Cavaliers left them as a free agent before last season to sign a six-year, $68 million contract with Utah, and for the first time since high school he was the main man on a basketball team. Boozer put up respectable numbers--his 17.8 points, 9.0 rebounds and 52.1 shooting percentage all led the team--but Utah went 26--56, the worst record in Jerry Sloan's 17 years as Jazz coach. At midseason owner Larry Miller criticized Boozer in the media, saying, "Some nights he acted like he didn't care that much." Then Boozer sprained his right foot and missed the final 31 games.
Boozer spent the off-season working to become a star-caliber player. After training with fellow Duke alum Peterson from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. (his body fat dropped from 10% to 6%), he would hone his basketball skills until noon. Boozer also studied film to learn how to better handle double teams, which he hadn't seen in college or while playing alongside LeBron James in Cleveland.
Boozer says he's ready to carry the Jazz, though Sloan says he never told Boozer that he had to be the guy. "I never said that to even John Stockton or Karl Malone," Sloan says. But it's hard to get to the playoffs if the guys who get paid like stars don't play like them.
"The key to their season is establishing a point guard. Deron Williams will definitely play, but he'll need some time to adapt because Jerry Sloan is so demanding. My guess is you'll see a lot of minutes going to Milt Palacio early in the season, because he will give them stability. He can't shoot, but he's big and strong and defends pretty well.... It shocked me that Carlos Boozer wasn't seen as a reliable guy for them. His numbers were pretty good, but he was obviously not a favorite of Sloan's.... Mehmet Okur can play hard at times, can shoot the crap out of it, is a good rebounder and has a big body you can put on the biggest centers, including Shaq. He'll learn to play at a higher rpm for Sloan--he'll have no choice.... Matt Harpring seems like an old guy because he's been injured so much, but he has improved his shooting and he's tough. If they bump him to sixth man, they can have one of the league's better front lines in Okur, Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko, who can guard anybody.... Another thing they lack is three-point shooting. Harpring and Kirilenko are not great three-point shooters, and Gordan Giricek is much better a step or two inside the line. Devin Brown isn't great deep either, but he adds some bench depth and comes from San Antonio, which should prepare him for Sloan."