Carlos Boozer is arguably the most recognizable and well-established free agent left in one of the craziest free agent periods the NBA has seen in a while. While other lesser-known names were getting scooped up to massive deals, the 33-year-old Boozer remains a free agent in large part because he might be the absolute worst defensive player in the NBA.
If you were to only look at the box score sheets for Boozer, you might be perplexed as to why the two-time All-Star has generated little-to-no interest in the free agent market. Boozer had a seemingly productive year last year with the Lakers – he averaged 12 points and 7 rebounds in only 24 minutes per game of playing time. However, his stats belie what is glaringly obvious to those who have watched Boozer closely – that his contributions on the offensive ends can no longer cover for abhorrent defense.
Last Year’s Amnesty
There has been a steady decline in interest for the services of Boozer. The first hints began to surface when he was amnestied by the Bulls last year.
Boozer signed a mega-contract in 2010 to play with the Chicago Bulls and, while productive offensively, he quickly became unplayable during crunch-time because of how bad his defense was. The Bulls jettisoned the last year of Boozer’s contract, amnestying his $16M contract and hoping that some team would throw a token offer at him. The bidding process allowed all teams under the salary cap the chance to bid on Boozer, but only the Lakers bit, bidding a little more than $3M.
The Lakers seemed genuinely surprised that they were the only team to bid on Boozer. GM Mitch Kupchak was forced to waive promising young player Kendall Marshall as a result of taking on Boozer’s salary and noted at Boozer’s introductory press conference, “Fortunately for us and unexpectedly for us, our bid was the highest bid and we were awarded Carlos. Not for a second did we think that he’d be available to us.”
The Lakers found out quickly though why nobody else wanted Boozer. His defense made him unplayable and he was relegated to the bench shortly after Byron Scott criticized his defensive effort.
Ricky O’Donnell and team at SB Nation’s Chicago Bulls site Blogabull have been documenting Boozer’s miscues on the Lakers all season, much to the delight of Bulls and Jazz fans who bore this burden alone for years. Narrowing it to a top 3 was difficult, but here are some clips collected by O’Donnell and others of just how bad Boozer’s defense got last year:
Grantland’s Zach Lowe had this evaluation on Boozer’s defense this season:
Carlos Boozer’s go-to move on pick-and-roll defense now is to just try desperately to kick the ball and stop play.
— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) November 12, 2014
There are literally vine accounts dedicated to how bad Boozer’s defense was last year. It was bad and hilarious at the same time.
Still Okay Production Offensively
Despite all of this, Boozer still has something left to offer teams. He has always been a solid veteran presence, a great locker-room guy, and he can still score. Boozer has seen a steady reduction in playing time, but he’s still been averaging around 18 points and 10 rebounds per 36 minutes for the past four years, right in line with his career average. The problem lays in where his points are coming from.
Earlier in his career, Boozer was a very good finisher at the rim. As he has aged, his athleticism has declined considerably and he struggles a lot to get his shot off over the trees at the rim. As a result, he’s still scoring (18 pts/36 minutes last year) but most of his shots are coming off of long 2’s rather than in the paint:
Year by year, Boozer has seen a steady increase in the number of long 2’s he takes while his shots at the rim have been dropping precipitously. As a result, his scoring efficiency has dropped and he no longer shoots a great percentage to rack up his points while he’s on the floor. Add this to his inability on defense, and that is why teams are passing on Boozer.
What’s Next for Boozer?
It is a little bit sad to see Boozer go from starting for a good playoff team in the Bulls two years ago to on the street at age 33, but there are still some locations where he might end up.
Ira Winderman, the Sun Sentinel beat reporter for the Miami Heat, has suggested in mailbags that Boozer might end up with the team. Boozer has a home there where his young children stay, and his kids already mistakenly cheer against Boozer in games where he plays the Heat. There is also some less credible internet speculation that the Knicks might have interest.
If Boozer ends up not signing anywhere, he’ll have had a pretty good career. He’s played 13 seasons with a career average of 16 points and 10 rebounds, made two All-Star appearances (displaying one of the most embarrassing defensive moments in one), and earned close to $150M for his career.
As a 2nd round draft pick, not much was expected of Carlos Boozer. For one of the loudest players in the league, I hope we all get another year somewhere of watching Boozer to give him the chance to go out with a bang.