Monson: What's Boozer worth?
As Deron Williams thinks about his future with the Jazz and the Jazz think about their future with Deron Williams, their trains of thought collide and explode by the tracks that cross at Carlos Boozer.
The power forward is the center of concern for Williams and the Jazz - for reasons that are similar and dissimilar.
He is, or has been, the main scoring cog in Utah during recent years, anchoring the offensive schemes that Jerry Sloan favors and Williams directs, echoing back to the days of Karl Malone. Boozer's not Malone, especially not at the defensive end, but he is the team's low-post presence, bringing 20 points and 10 rebounds every night, and in the NBA that makes him a ridiculously valuable asset.
The question is: How ridiculously valuable?
Boozer can opt out of his deal at the end of next season, which he likely will do, making his services available to the most attractive - read: highest - bidder, whose bidding might blast into the $130 million range. That's a difficult plate of biscuits for the Jazz to chew, given that they already will be paying Williams max money, well worth it, and Andrei Kirilenko the same, well . . . not worth it. Add Boozer's new market value to that mix, along with the Jazz's other projected salary obligations, then consider that their payroll already rests in the low $60 million range, with the luxury-tax threshold at $71 million, and it's easy to see why the whole equation doesn't compute.
Unless Larry Miller decides to jump aboard a rocket straight through the luxury-sphere, a ride he has said he would only be up for if it almost guaranteed a title, the Jazz are hurting.
Is Boozer worth all of that?
Some people speculate that he wants out, anyway. He lives in Miami, his wife doesn't like it here, his child's health suffers at higher elevation, and something isn't quite right in his situation with the Jazz, as was demonstrated by his recent sub-average playoff performance. He might want to play in the East, where he wouldn't have to deal with as many gifted and long interior defenders. Moreover, he has proved in the past that he's willing to bail on a talented team - the Cavs - if the financials aren't filled up to the rim. Talk to Boozer about the whole deal, and he's the same as he usually is about so many other things: opaque and ambiguous.
So, what should the Jazz do?
Their course might have less to do with Boozer's abilities, although the defensive hole his presence in the lineup creates was a major problem this past postseason, and more to do with what they stand to lose if he walks.
If Boozer opts out, and the Jazz understandably don't believe he's worth what others might pay him in an open market, but they don't want to just sit back and watch him leave for nothing, their obvious alternative is to trade him as soon as possible. His value isn't what it ordinarily would be, on account of his right to opt out on whichever team is on the other end of the deal, but there could be - couldn't there? - a club looking to clear its own room under the cap that could do so by acquiring Boozer now.
The Jazz likely would have to take on some excess money with perhaps incomplete players in return, but if they could get, say, a long-but-limited defender, that might advance their overall cause, or at least limit the damage.
Other alternatives are to either let Mehmet Okur go elsewhere when he opts out of his contract at the end of next season, or trade him under similar disadvantages and restrictions as Boozer. Okur makes about $9 million now, and, as one of the top 10 centers in the league, will certainly want a bump from that.
Whether Williams holds sway with Boozer or Okur, trying to get them to eventually stay in the fold for less money, is hardly believable, even if he showed the way by accepting less in his own deal.
The real problem in all of this is Kirilenko's contract. Find a sucker - doubtful - to trade for him, and take on his money, and lift a cloud over the entire Jazz franchise. Keep him, and the worst hamstring in team history will have nothing to do with Boozer's health issue a few years back and everything to do with an overpaid, underachieving forward the Jazz completely misjudged and overvalued, to their own detriment, when they gave him max money.
Ironic that a bad hammy, wholly unattached to Boozer, apparently will cost the Jazz his services, after all - for virtually nothing in return.
Unless they trade him first, and pick up a couple of helpful-but-flawed pieces in an exchange that could bounce them in a positive direction without blowing their bank account to smithereens.
* GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 1280 AM The Zone. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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