He didn’t disappear nearly as much as disgruntled Bulls fans would like to think he did since his arrival in Chicago back in 2010, but it was fitting that after the team’s first-round series defeat at the hands of the Wizards, Carlos Boozer was nowhere to be found.
The much-maligned power forward had 10 points and nine rebounds in Tuesday night’s 75-69’ loss to Washington at the United Center, concluding not only the Bulls’ season, but likely Boozer’s career with the organization. After having played sparingly in fourth quarters since the second half of the regular season, Boozer was inserted into the contest by Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau with 7:51 remaining in the contest, after sixth man Taj Gibson suffered a left-ankle injury.
Boozer struggled on both ends of the floor and on the glass, earning boos from the home crowd and Thibodeau neglected to mention him in his postgame press conference. But while this was certainly Boozer’s worst season with the Bulls, he’s still a productive player.
Never quite embraced in Chicago because of his well-documented defensive flaws — he got off to a rocky start with fans after his infamous 2010 training-camp injury, suffered when tripping over a bag in his home — Boozer is still a solid rebounder, underrated passer and while he isn’t the low-post threat he was earlier in his career, he is a reliable mid-range shooter and consistent double-figure scorer. If the Bulls indeed opt to use the amnesty clause on him this summer — an expiring contract next season, they could also attempt to package him in a sign-and-trade scenario — it’s easy to envision a team under the cap, yet not all that far away from being a contender, acquiring him and taking another step.
For example, a franchise like Phoenix could certainly use an experienced inside presence to go with its young, perimeter-oriented roster and with its noted medical staff, Boozer’s career could be extended. Although his relationship with Thibodeau definitely soured this season — once one of the coach’s favorites, it was surprising to see him get the Rip Hamilton treatment — Boozer is regarded as a good teammate and is respected around the league.
He isn’t the only Bulls veteran who could move on next season. It’s almost a foregone conclusion that late-season acquisitions Ronnie Brewer, Mike James and Lou Amundson won’t be on the Bulls’ roster in the fall, and fan favorite Jimmer Fredette will likely seek out an opportunity where he has a better chance of carving out a more significant role.
But for the likes of free agents Kirk Hinrich, D.J. Augustin and Nazr Mohammed, the decisions will be a bit tougher.
Hinrich, in his second stint with the Bulls, was the team’s starting point guard for the second consecutive season, a role that was only supposed to be temporary as Derrick Rose recovered from his 2012 ACL injury. But he was forced to take over as the Bulls’ floor general again this season and while he isn’t the scoring threat he was in his first tour of duty, Hinrich is still a tough defender who contributes with his intangibles.
At the same time, he has a lot of mileage on him, something that wasn’t eased by the past two campaigns, though he was much healthier this year than in the previous season, in which he seemed to be constantly playing through injuries. Still, with young children at home, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him return to the Bulls for one more season at a discounted rate or simply call it a career, even if there are potentially several teams who could be interested in his services as a more-than-capable backup point guard at 33 years old.
“I have no idea,” Hinrich said. “Just right now, very disappointed in the end result. Decompress and then figure it out.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen. I know they’ve got a good group of guys coming back. Right now — it’s just hard to think about right now,” he continued. “Like I said, those are decisions that are going to be made upstairs and right now, it’s just still sinking in that we lost and the season’s over.”
For Mohammed, 36, he’s privately expressed an interest in NBA front-office work after his playing days are over, but it’s unclear whether or not the center thinks the time to make that transition is now.
“I’ve thought about it. I’ve got to sit back, decompress first — never make emotional decisions — so sit back, decompress and figure out what’s the next step,” the Chicago native explained. “Disappointing. As a team, I feel like my expectations were a lot higher. I’m disappointed that our season is over and individually, my expectations were higher, so it’s a disappointing year for me.”
Augustin is in a different boat altogether after a resurgent season following a down year in Indiana the previous campaign and getting waived by Toronto early this season. Although the diminutive point guard struggled against Washington’s big perimeter players, the Bulls’ leading scorer showed why he was once a lottery pick and while he’s grateful for the opportunity afforded him in Chicago, what’s left unsaid is that not only does he have to look for the best financial opportunity that presents itself, but part of him has to want to be a starter again, as he was in Charlotte, his first NBA team, where he thrived.
“I definitely love it here. I definitely would love to be back. Right now, I’m just trying to get over this game. It’s still fresh in my mind,” he said. “It’s the playoffs. We lost as a team, so that’s how I’m looking at it. It didn’t take anything away from our season or my season.”
The Bulls slated to return think the pieces are in place for the Bulls to return to the league’s upper echelon.
[RELATED - Fatigued Bulls finally run out of gas in Game 5]
“It’s bright, but it’s been bright for a while. We just have to take the opportunity to overcome. We’ve been saying it’s right for us for a while. We’ve just got to get healthy, take advantage of things and we’ve got to put in more work,” Gibson explained. “We’ve got to see what happens. It’s going to be a long summer. My job is to get better. I’m leaving that to Thibs and upper management. They see what’s going on, they see what we need, but right now the players that we’ve got, we’ve got to keep developing, guys have to come back stronger, myself included, it’s a lot of responsibility and like Derrick said tonight we’re really going to remember this series and when we hit the [ground] running next season, we’re going to remember a lot of people.”
All-Star center Joakim Noah, like Gibson, a member of the Bulls’ core moving forward, chimed in: “No question. I think we’re a good team, but we’re trying to find a way to get over that hump, to get to that next level. The only thing I can do is get better individually, be ready for next season. But like I said right now, I don’t know what the future holds, in terms of who’s going to be here and stuff. But all I can say is I appreciate the guys who were here this year. I’ve never been around a group of guys who worked their [expletive] off from the beginning to end.”
Veteran sharpshooter Mike Dunleavy, who has another year on his contract, added: “Guys’ contracts are up and things like that, so the front office and coaching staff will take a look and do what they’ve got to do. It seems like there’s a really good core in place to build this thing from good to great.”
Rose, just like this season, will be the biggest key to the Bulls’ ability to realize their championship-contending aspirations, regardless of whether impending free agent Carmelo Anthony or any other marquee player arrives in Chicago. Noah optimistically asserted that the former league MVP’s second major comeback would automatically restore the Bulls’ title hopes.
“There’s no question. Every year I go into it believing that we’re going to win a championship and I think that there’s a lot of lessons to be learned from this year, and just looking forward to next year,” Noah said. “[Rose] means everything. We feel like he’s one of the most talented players in the world. You take off the top player on any team, I don’t care, it’s a tough blow and we had to deal with that two years in a row. But I think that going through all that, I think that this team never gave up and I think that’s something that I’m proud of. I’m proud that through the all the adversity, we never gave up. We lose in the first round, it is what it is. This is who we are. We didn’t lose from lack of effort, that’s for sure.”
Thibodeau, while he doesn’t have the power of personnel like his good friend Doc Rivers of the Clippers, also claims he likes what the Bulls have to work with moving forward.
“I think obviously we were short-handed this year, but I think we’re positioned well and obviously we have to address the shooting, how we surround Derrick will be critical, and not only Derrick, but also Taj and Joakim and you never can have enough shooting. We’ll see how things unfold,” the coach said. “To me, I think every team you could take a step back and say, ‘Well we need this,’ and I think the challenge for everyone is to figure out what the strengths of your team are, play to those strengths and cover up your weaknesses. So obviously you would like to have more and we were put in an unusual situation, and you dealt with it the best you could, but I think the foundation is in place and we have great character on the team, and that’s a huge plus. I think that goes a long way.”