SACRAMENTO — Say what you want about Carlos Boozer, but since he’s been in a Bulls uniform, the much-maligned power forward has been durable, a good teammate and rarely complains, even when he’s forced to be a cheerleader in most fourth quarters, as he gives way to understudy Taj Gibson.
That last part changed a bit before the team’s morning shootaround at Sleep Train Arena, ahead of Monday evening’s game against the Kings. Boozer voiced his opinion, without mincing words, about his lack of playing time, made more relevant by Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau’s decision to bench him in the final period of both of the first two games of the squad’s ongoing Western Conference road trip.
“I think I should be out there, but it’s (Thibodeau’s) choice. He makes the decisions out there, so I play. I don’t coach, he coaches. So he decides that. But honestly, he’s been doing that a lot since I’ve been here, not putting me in the fourth quarter. Sometimes we win. More times than not, we don’t. But that’s his choice,” Boozer said. “(It’s) super tough. It’s very frustrating, especially when I’ve got a great game going or what have you. Obviously as a competitor, you want to be out there to help your team win and especially when the game is close, you can do things that can help your team win and not being out there, all you could do is really cheer them on. But that’s his choice.”
Since Boozer’s initial season with the Bulls, the 2010-11 campaign, Thibodeau has opted to go with Gibson for defensive purposes in fourth quarter, most notably in the playoffs. But All-Star center Joakim Noah was also subject to that decision, as former backup Omer Asik also often finished games during Thibodeau’s first two years at the helm in Chicago, even in matchups like the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals, though it’s unfathomable to even think about Noah not being on the court in the clutch these days.
Boozer is a 12-year NBA veteran, so both his strengths and weaknesses as a player are well-documented, but he clearly doesn’t embrace being relegated to a nonessential member of the team, whether it’s on a night when he has it going offensively or it’s simply crunch time. While he’ll continue being a good soldier, Boozer doesn’t want it misconstrued that he doesn’t want to be on the floor in the clutch or has any lingering health issues that would prevent him, perhaps one of the most durable players on the Bulls, from being on the court.
“I don’t know what peoples’ perception is, but the reality is it’s Thibs’ decision. It is frustrating when you’re having a great game and you’re not out there to help your team win at the end of games. He’s been doing that since I got here. That’s up to Thibs,” Boozer explained. “(Thibodeau) knows that (Boozer is healthy). He’s aware of that. I feel great, body feels great. I think I’m very productive in the limited minutes that I am getting, so I can do even more if I was out there more, but as long as we’re winning that’s the main thing, but yeah, I do want to be out there in the fourth quarter, let’s make that clear.”
Boozer is averaging 14.8 points and 8.5 rebounds in 29.8 minutes per game, though he is shooting a career-low 45.7 percent from the field. Gibson already is playing 28.6 minutes per game as the Bulls’ sixth man and finishes games in what’s been a career-best season thus far, justifying his long-term contract extension last Halloween.
After this season, Boozer has one more year on his contract, and there has been much speculation as to whether the Bulls will choose to exercise the amnesty clause on his deal, shedding his massive $16.8 million salary for the 2014-15 campaign from their books. While that’s a strong possibility, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, it’s a fluid scenario, with much depending on whether the Bulls are able to bring over coveted 2011 first-round draft pick Nikola Mirotic, who also plays power forward, from Spain in the offseason, not to mention the organization’s free-agent pursuits, which could include current Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony.
For the time being, however, Boozer remains a reliable source of offense and rebounding, who, despite his defensive limitations, has good chemistry with the team’s present core, meaning that if he’s basically paid to go away — and potentially make another team much better — it had better be worth it.