Wasn't he supposed to be long gone?
When Carlos Boozer met with the media after the Utah Jazz lost to the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs a little more than a year ago, it seemed to operate on two levels.
One part series summation, one part farewell party for a power forward.
Or, at the very least, getting ready to say goodbye.
But it never happened.
After declaring in an interview in December 2008, that he would opt out "no matter what," Boozer remained in Utah, deciding not to chance the free-agent market on July 1, 2009. He was on the court at the start of this season and, along with Deron Williams and Paul Millsap, got the injury-riddled Jazz past the Denver Nuggets in six games in the opening round of the playoffs.
Boozer averaged 22.5 points and 13.3 rebounds against the Nuggets, including a 31-point performance in Game 4. He had double-doubles in four of the six games.
Utah will be trying to avoid losing to the Lakers in the playoffs for the third consecutive time in the postseason. Game 1 is Sunday at Staples Center.
The pattern is pretty predictable: The Lakers have stormed out in Game 1s against the Jazz, winning last year by 13 points and two years ago by 11.
There are no secrets between the teams, but the Jazz is hardly the same as in previous years. It had to change on the fly, through necessity, because of the season-ending injury to Mehmet Okur and the injuries woes of Andrei Kirilenko, who could be back in time for Game 3, if all goes well with his injured left calf.
But they are here, in part, because of the man who was not supposed to be here. Boozer, the two-time All-Star, has helped the assimilation process, according to one Western Conference executive:
"He empowers people around him. Which is why you see [Kyrylo] Fesenko stepping up and Wesley [Matthews] stepping up and they're getting production out of all these different areas that they never thought they were going to have to rely on because Okur and Kirilenko got hurt. He finds a way to make guys believe in themselves.
"The thing with that team: They never look for an excuse. You can look for excuses to win and you can find ways to win….The culture in Utah is: There are no excuses. We work hard. Whoever you put on the floor is a threat.
"That's how they play. One night it is Boozer, another night it is Millsap, another night it is Deron Williams."
More may fall on Boozer, in terms of leadership, depending upon the health of Williams, who is suffering from a bruised left elbow and is considered a game-time decision.
Not to be forgotten, again, is the underlying tone that this may be Boozer's last go-around with the Jazz. He will be an unrestricted free agent in July, and it seems hard to envision Utah could keep him because of Millsap's big contract and Kirlilenko's max deal is on the books for another year.
But, then again, you've heard that all before …
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