Boozer returns to Miami

Published December 22, 2009 7:10 pm
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With the blue water staring back at him on an otherwise overcast afternoon in the city where he makes his offseason home, Carlos Boozer could have been forgiven Tuesday for giving his basketball future a momentary thought.

After a summer in which he asserted that the Jazz had agreed to trade him, named Miami as one of his preferred destinations and called playing with Dwyane Wade "a beautiful thing," Boozer returns to face the Heat tonight.

It is not, however, so much the past and present as it is the future that is most intriguing for Boozer. Not only will the former All-Star forward be a free agent this summer, but the Heat will have the salary-cap space needed to sign him outright.

The Heat project to have between $15 million and $19 million in cap space, even as Wade is expected to opt out of his contract and become a free agent. For his part, Boozer was asked Tuesday if Miami would be on his list of top teams this summer.

"We'll see when the time comes," Boozer said. "I think that'll take care of itself at that point in the season. They're a good team trying to get better, we're a good team trying to get better. That's where I think both teams are right now."

Boozer has been linked to Miami regularly in recent summers, though the Heat ended any hopes of signing him last summer when they acquired Jermaine O'Neal from Toronto last season. O'Neal has a $23 million expiring contract this season.

The Jazz have been able to move past the controversy of last summer with Boozer, who decided to play the final year of his contract at $12.7 million rather than opting for free agency only to end up at odds with the organization.

Boozer has enjoyed an injury-free season and posted impressive numbers, averaging 19.8 points and 10.8 rebounds. The Jazz nevertheless face a decision about moving Boozer before the Feb. 18 trade deadline given his contract situation.

For now, Boozer is assuming he will finish the season in Utah, "unless you all know something I don't," he told reporters before practice at American Airlines Arena.

"We're getting healthier and we're getting better," Boozer said. "If we keep playing the way we're capable of playing, we'll be able to reach our potential, and hopefully for us that's a championship."

Boozer added he has not ruled out a potential return to Utah. The Jazz, however, already have $58 million committed to eight players for next season, not counting Boozer.

"They'll talk to me, we'll talk to them, and go from there," Boozer said. "I think it'll be one of those situations that should hopefully take care of itself."

"It's hard to know what's going to happen," Boozer added. "You never know what's going to happen. Obviously, whatever will happen is going to come forth soon. I mean, we're already 30 games in almost. It's coming up fast, faster than people think."

With the Jazz having matched Portland's four-year, $32 million offer sheet to keep Paul Millsap last summer, Boozer was asked if such a return was realistic given the investment the team has made in Millsap.

"It could be, if they wanted to spend it," Boozer said. "I think all the competitive teams that win championships are obviously all over the [luxury tax] and that's the reason why they win championships, because they have stud players.

"If they were willing to pay it, yeah. If they're not willing to pay it, then no. They'd have to make something happen."

There are also questions about whether Boozer will seek a maximum-value contract comparable with some of the league's superstars such as LeBron James and Wade.

"I don't know," Boozer said. "I let [agent] Rob [Pelinka] take care of all that. I just go out there and do what I do every night on the court, give it everything I have, and Rob will tell me what it is."

As much furor as Boozer's return to Utah prompted, Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said Boozer had succeeded in focusing on the season rather than the uncertainty of the situation.

"Karl [Malone] was in some of those situations whenever he was here, and you just go play basketball," Sloan said. "Keep your value as high as you can by playing well."

Deron Williams said of Boozer's return to Miami: "I don't think anybody's thinking about it. I haven't thought about it. So I don't think it'll be that big of a deal."

Asked if he believed Boozer would finish the season in Utah, Williams added: "Yeah. Why would he not? We have no reason to think otherwise."

Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor praised Boozer for being "a total professional," in everything from his community relations appearances with the team to his play on the court. Boozer, meanwhile, said the season in Utah has gone better than expected.

"I think once you start playing, you start winning, I think everything from there will take care of itself," said Boozer, who was planning to see friends and family, barbecue at home, visit a favorite restaurant or two, relax and maybe get in a swim while in Miami.

"I think until then, it's just everybody has this thought in their mind or their perceived thoughts and then when you see us out there working hard and playing and going at it, they succumb to you a little bit, they root for you again.

"I'm having fun, and hopefully everybody can see that."

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Jazz at Heat

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