The reality of a barren free-agent market caught up to Carlos Boozer on Tuesday, when the Jazz forward elected to return to Utah, unable to match the $12.7 million he stands to make for the upcoming season.
Boozer's decision to return prompted Mehmet Okur to do the same a few hours later. Okur will make $9 million this season, pushing the Jazz into luxury-tax territory with at least two more players still to add to their roster.
The Jazz will retain Boozer, a two-time All-Star forward, but the question is at what price, with Paul Millsap set to hit the market as a restricted free agent tonight and the small-market team's payroll skyrocketing.
"I think it's a good thing for the Jazz," chief executive Greg Miller said. "I think that Carlos is one of the great players in the league and I'm excited to have him be part of the team. Hopefully, we'll have a great season largely due to his presence on our team."
The Jazz could explore trading Boozer, who will be an expiring contract and possibly eyeing free agency next summer, but Miller said: "I think we should plan on moving forward with the roster we've got right now."
Okur's agent, Marc Fleisher, met with Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor for a little more than an hour Monday afternoon and left without making any decisions. Once Boozer opted out, however, Okur's decision followed shortly.
"He's always been happy with the Jazz," Fleisher said, "and he's looking forward to it and we'll take it from there."
Had he opted out, Okur could not be sure that the Jazz would make as much of a push to re-sign him in the wake of Boozer's decision.
Millsap's agent, DeAngelo Simmons, said Boozer's decision would signal to teams that they might be able to sign away Millsap with an offer the Jazz would not be able to match.
"That was the indication from teams that we've received," Simmons said. "Now that they know that [the Jazz] don't really have that amount of money, they're going to be more aggressive, in my opinion."
The Jazz have been unequivocal about matching offers to Millsap. Simmons said he thought a Boozer/Millsap pairing could work for another season.
"Anything is possible and anything is negotiable," he said, adding, "It's a tough situation. I hope for the best for both parties."
Boozer's decision was a reversal from his December comments to an ESPN.com reporter that he was planning to opt out and would get a raise regardless. The Jazz, however, long questioned if the market that Boozer believed existed was more fantasy than reality.
Miller said he wouldn't have been surprised with either decision Boozer could have made. He added that he hadn't talked to Boozer since he made comments critical of Boozer's defense and leadership in a local television interview in May.
Despite late owner Larry Miller's determination never to become a luxury-tax paying team, the Jazz are faced with exactly that fate in the wake of Boozer's and Okur's decisions.
They have approximately $73.5 million in salary commitments to 11 players for the upcoming season, with the league's tax theshold expected to be set around $70 million.
Teams pay a dollar-for-dollar penalty for the amount they exceed the threshold and also lose out on a share of the disbursements from the league's other tax-paying teams. The Jazz received $3 million from that pool for the 2007-07 season.
The Jazz still have to decide about Millsap and will have to carry at least 13 players on their roster this season, according to NBA rules.
"It could be [a problem]," Miller said, "but it's like I said before: If we need to go into the luxury tax to protect our players and protect our team, keep it intact, we'd have to take a look at that."
Should the Jazz become luxury-tax payers, Miller added that they would be "very deliberate" in making the decision. "It's not something we're going to do on a whim," he said.
A representative for Boozer's agent, Rob Pelinka, delivered the Jazz notice of the decision shortly before 3 p.m. at the arena. Pelinka did not immediately return a message, as did O'Connor.
O'Connor did issue a statement through the team, which raised the issue of Boozer's injury-plagued time in Utah. Boozer has missed a third of the team's games the past five seasons with various foot, hamstring and knee injuries.
"We are excited that Carlos has decided to remain with the Jazz," O'Connor said. "We are hopeful he can continue to play at an All-Star level and will have an injury-free season."
Boozer missed 44 games with an injured left knee that ultimately required surgery. He returned in late February, but the Jazz went just 15-11 to close the regular season after Boozer's return before losing the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs.