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A season that began with controversy and excitement ended in pain and disappointment.
Carlos Boozer, the Jazz's highest-paid and most-anticipated free agent acquisition ever, will not play again this season, the team's trainer said Tuesday. The Jazz's starting power forward, who on Wednesday sat out his 20th game since injuring his right foot on Valentine's Day, has been ordered by his doctor to wear a protective boot over his right foot for at least three more weeks.
Boozer's condition has improved since he began wearing the boot full-time March 10, and surgery has been ruled out for the time being, trainer Gary Briggs said. But it remains a possibility if the extended rest does not eliminate the discomfort Boozer still feels in his foot.
"He is encouraged that his injury is healing and getting better," said Rob Pelinka, Boozer's agent. "But Carlos is really discouraged, (even) devastated, to find out he won't be able to play basketball again this year."
Boozer is a graduate of Juneau-Douglas High School.
The irritation, which became inflamed when Boozer landed on another player's foot during a Feb. 14 game in Phoenix, is at an unusual connection in the bones in his foot, a condition that shows up in X-rays taken when Boozer broke his foot while playing for Duke in 2001 and probably has existed since childhood. In essence, a gap in the bone once filled in with "fibrous tissue," Briggs said, and not bone. That tissue is what causes Boozer pain now, Briggs said, though the pain has greatly lessened since he began wearing the boot.
According to orthopedic specialist Richard Ferkel, Briggs said, "since he played with it this long, if we let it calm down, he should be able to play with it again without surgery."
But Ferkel, who first examined the Jazz forward March 10, wants to completely eliminate the irritation in Boozer's foot before allowing him to begin rehabilitation. That means wearing the boot until his next examination on April 19 - one day before the Jazz's final game.
"Carlos' mindset all along has been focused on trying to play again as soon as possible," Pelinka said of his client, who was not available for comment. "Carlos is a warrior. He wants to play basketball more than anything, and I could see on his face how disappointed he was. ... But the doctor told him immobilization is necessary, and he's sticking to this schedule."
It's the end to a tumultuous nine-month stretch of Boozer's NBA career. The third-year forward signed with the Jazz amid a national outcry over the circumstances of his departure from Cleveland, which failed to trigger an option that would have paid Boozer $695,000 this year, then protested publicly when he accepted a $68 million contract with the Jazz.
Boozer's first month in Utah was brilliant - he averaged 22.2 points and 10.3 rebounds in the Jazz's first 10 games - and he contributed 21 double-doubles in the first half of the season. But as the Jazz declined, so too did Boozer's production, and he went into a monthlong slump that prompted owner Larry Miller to publicly chastise him: "Some nights, he has looked like he didn't care that much."
Four days later, Boozer, who earns $10.97 million, played for the last time this season.
Boozer is the third Jazz player in this injury-ruined year to have his season cut short. Guard Raul Lopez injured his left knee one day after Boozer's injury and had season-ending surgery a week later. And Andrei Kirilenko, who missed 26 games with a knee injury in December and January, broke his left wrist last Thursday.
The Jazz, who had counted on Boozer and Kirilenko to form a potent forward tandem, were 11-14 in the few games both played. Utah is 11-34 without one or both.
With his return for the final few games ruled out, the Jazz are focused on rehabilitating Boozer for next season, Briggs said. "We will keep him here after the season until his doctor feels he has tested his foot enough that he's pretty sure this is going to be OK," Briggs said, adding that Boozer's conditioning during the injury has been excellent. "We're not going to let him go home to Miami and call us and tell us how it feels. He'll be here doing rehab."
Reprinted with permission from The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com.