During six seasons with the Jazz, Carlos Boozer became one of the most productive yet polarizing players in franchise history.
Boozer returns to Utah on Friday night — almost three years after he originally left — when the Jazz play host to Chicago at EnergySolutions Arena.
The Bulls arrive as one of the surprise teams in the NBA. They are fourth in the Eastern Conference despite the fact former MVP Derrick Rose has not played this season because of a knee injury.
After struggling for most of his first two seasons in Chicago — so much so that there were rumors the Bulls wanted to trade him — Boozer has put together his best season for them.
He averages 15.7 points and 9.6 rebounds. More significantly, he played in 45 of Chicago’s first 48 games.
In January, coach Tom Thibodeau told the Chicago Tribune that Boozer deserved to join two other Bulls — Joakim Noah and Luol Deng — in the All-Star Game.
“These things are always tough because there is limited space and deserving players,” Thibodeau said. “But Carlos has been unbelievable, so I think he’s deserving.”
“I wouldn’t be in this position if it wasn’t for Carlos especially,” he said. “He demands so much attention because of how good he is offensively. I’m able to get a lot of easy baskets because of Carlos. ... I appreciate playing with him. He works really, really hard.”
For the last two weeks, Boozer has been bothered by a sore hamstring. He missed games at Milwaukee, Brooklyn and Atlanta but returned for Monday’s 111-101 loss at Indiana. Against the Pacers, he finished with 10 points and five rebounds in 23 minutes.
“You’ve got to be smart and careful about it,” Boozer told ESPNChicago.com. “I’m going to be smart and careful about it.”
Of course, Boozer’s injury-plagued past is why his legacy in Utah is tarnished — at least in the minds of many Jazz fans.
During six seasons with the Jazz, Boozer earned two All-Star berths, played on the U.S. Olympic team and helped Utah reach the 2007 Western Conference finals.
But those injuries ...
In Utah, Boozer missed 138 of 492 regular-season games. He played as many as 74 games only three times. In the other three seasons, he played 51, 33 and 37 games.
Still, Tyrone Corbin remains a Boozer fan, just as Jerry Sloan was when he coached the Jazz.
“Great guy, great teammate, great guy to work with,” Corbin said. “I spent a lot of time working with him. ... Just a great human being. We enjoyed the time we spent together.”
Asked about Boozer’s critics in Utah, Corbin shook his head.
“I don’t know if the criticism was justified,” he said. “But if you’re hurt, you’re hurt. What can you do? And I know he was hurt and always trying his hardest to get back. ...
“Knowing Booz — he didn’t want to miss games. He wanted to be out there with his teammates. And it hurt him more than anyone when he couldn’t be out there helping his team.”
Corbin recalled one incident when Boozer tried to prematurely return from a hamstring injury.
“I was working out with him,” he said, “... and he tweaked it again. The guy was hurt. So I don’t question his character — whether he wanted to play. I know he was beat up.”
Injuries aside, Boozer averaged 19.3 points and 10.5 rebounds in 354 games with the Jazz, establishing himself as a top-10 player in franchise history.
“Tremendous success during the time he was here,” Corbin said. “People talk about the games he was out because he was hurt. But the games he played — when he was healthy — he was a tremendous asset for us.”
Paul Millsap is the only player remaining on the Jazz’s active roster who was Boozer’s teammate.
“I remember he was a great player for us — an All-Star player,” Millsap said. “... I have great memories of him. We made it to the Western Conference finals with him that one year. So a lot of memories.”
Bulls vs. Jazz
P At EnergySolutions Arena
Tipoff • 8:30 p.m.
TV • ROOT, ESPN
Radio • 1280 AM, 1600 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 28-22;Bulls 29-19
Season series • First game
Last meeting • Bulls, 111-97 (March 10, 2012)
About the Jazz • They have won 13 of their last 18 games. ... They are 7-0 at home against Eastern Conference opponents. ... G Alec Burks averages 11 points and 3.5 assists in 30 minutes in the last two games. ... In the last five games, F Paul Millsap averages 18.2 points on 34-for-66 shooting.
About the Bulls • They are playing back-to-back games after Thursday night’s game at Denver. ... Their opponents average only 91 points on 42.8 percent shooting. ... Their leading scorer is F Luol Deng (17.2 ppg). ... C Joakim Noah averages 12.1 points and 11.3 rebounds. ... G Derrick Rose (knee surgery) remains sidelined.
Booz with the Jazz
Carlos Boozer’s season-by-season statistics as a member of the Jazz:
Season Games Minutes Points Rebounds Assists
2004-05 51 34.7 17.8 9.0 2.8
2005-06 33 31.1 16.3 8.6 2.7
2006-07 74 34.6 20.9 11.7 3.0
2007-08 81 34.9 21.1 10.4 2.9
2008-09 37 32.4 16.2 10.4 2.1
2009-10 78 34.3 19.5 11.2 3.2
Bulls at Jazz
P Friday, 8:30 p.m.
TV • ROOT, ESPN