May 21, 2011, 9:00 PM EDT
So the Bulls are a pretty good team, right? Best record in the league, MVP Derrick Rose, top seed in the East, Conference Finals team with homecourt advantage (until Wednesday, at least). That’s pretty good. Except there’s just one problem that if the Bulls can solve, will mean their road to a championship and a restart of the 90’s heydays will be much easier.
Carlos Boozer signed with the Bulls for $75 million dollars over five years. He was the big free agent acquisition by Chicago in the free agent summer of a lifetime. Yes, the Bulls bought into a team-wide approach, adding role players like Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, and Keith Bogans (Keith Bogans?!), but Boozer was the crown jewel. When the Bulls were getting railroaded out of the playoffs, everyone said they needed a No.2 option. Boozer was meant to be that option.
The result? Boozer had a rough start, tripping over a bag, yes, a bag, and injuring himself for the first few months of the season. When he returned, he put in his third lowest season PER of his career, and his lowest point total in five years, save for the injury-ridden 2009 season. Boozer wasn’t looked at as a liability, after all, the Bulls won all those games and averaged 17.5 points and 9.6 rebounds. But he’s simply not the force that the Bulls need, and if he’s ever going to show up, now would be a great time as the Eastern Conference Finals move to Miami.
The playoffs started off badly for Boozer as Tyler Hansbrough showed the world what Jazz fans have known a long time: Boozer’s a defensive liability. Hansbrough still had opportunities as the Pacers series continued, but couldn’t convert, mostly due to inexperience. Then against the Hawks, we saw the first signs that Tom Thibodeau may trust Taj Gibson more in key defensive situations than Boozer. The Conference Finals have expressed the same. In fact, Gibson accounted for the vast majority of the Bulls’ offense in their fourth quarter of Game 2. Granted, the Bulls only scored 10 points in that quarter, but the point stands.
The Bulls needed offense in Game 2 and Boozer scored seven points on 3-10 shooting. He secured eight rebounds, four offensive, but it makes the second game Chris Bosh has bested Boozer, and Bosh had a terrible Game 2. The Bulls need Boozer. With Rose struggling as the Heat’s defense keys more and more on him, the Bulls have to look elsewhere. Their offense is at best rudimentary and at worst most-often infantile. “Give the ball to Boozer in the post and let him do his thing” is one of the better options the Bulls have.
The interesting thing is Tom Thibodeau doesn’t see Boozer, who turns 30 later this year, as a “slow it and post it” option. Instead, Thibodeau thinks Boozer needs the ball more in transition.
“It’s the same thing, just like with Derrick [Rose],” Thibodeau said. “I think the more we can run the floor and get out into transition before their defense gets set, it makes our offense much more efficient. I think it also plays to what our strengths are … We gotta try to get easy baskets. If the defense is set, now you gotta move the defense. Now the clock starts working against you. If you’re settling for long jumpers at the end of the shot clock, you’re not going to be very successful against this team.”
Boozer echoed his coach’s preference to play up-tempo basketball.
“Well we gotta run,” Boozer said. “The thing about getting easy baskets is you gotta make the other team miss, so you can get out in transition. We got one of the fastest guys in the world on our team (Rose). But to get the ball to him in transition where we can follow him and chase him, we gotta get stops. Once we get stops we’ll get the ball in his hands so we can run.”
Boozer has the opportunity to be the difference in a title or exit for the Bulls. But he has to somehow do the things he was paid to do. Whether he actually has that ability or not remains to be seen. The Bulls’ future lies with Boozer. If the Bulls want to reclaim homecourt advantage, they’ve got to get Boozer going.
And he’s got to do more than just yell.
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