SEATTLE - When he left the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Utah Jazz this summer, Carlos Boozer gave several reasons for the move.
With the change of teams, Boozer received a major raise in salary, an opportunity to play for coaching legend Jerry Sloan, and a chance to become a big star on a young team built for a long run in the NBA. When the Jazz stopped in Seattle to play the SuperSonics last week, Boozer, a 1999 Juneau-Douglas High School graduate, reflected on the move and his new team.
"We have a lot of talent, we just need to play better defense," he said. Talking about the move, Boozer said, "It was everything, just everything. It wasn't just the scenery. It was the team atmosphere, and my wife really likes it. Everything's very good."
One advantage to moving to Utah was the chance to move to a community where basketball is the only pro sport. Not only does he have the Rocky Mountains to remind him of growing up in Juneau, but the community of Salt Lake City firmly backs the Jazz.
"There's so much support within Utah," said Boozer, who has bought a block of 50 seats for home games so underprivileged kids can attend games in a section called "Boozer's Buddies."
Boozer's still a big draw for Alaska basketball fans, and there were at least three signs in Seattle's Key Arena that mentioned Alaska and Boozer. While there weren't as many Juneau fans making the trip to Seattle for this game - it was a midweek game, while Boozer's previous visits with Cleveland came on weekends - there still were several Boozer fans in the arena.
"We're just here for the game," said Matt Thibodeau, who graduated from JDHS with Boozer in 1999 and made a special trip to the game from Anchorage with his father, Tom. "It's our first game, but we saw him in Anchorage this summer."
"I traveled with his dad on an EBO (Elite Basketball Organization) team," said former Skagway High basketball player Mitch Snyder, who took part in a shooting contest between the third and fourth quarters. "We hung out together at Duke when we were there on the trip."
The Jazz are still making adjustments following an offseason that saw them bring in top free agents like Boozer and former Detroit Piston center-forward Mehmet Okur, but so far Boozer's made a big impact for the new-look Jazz.
"He's done well," said forward Matt Harpring, who led the Jazz in scoring last year before missing the second half of the season to a knee injury. "He's helped give us a low-post game."
"He's a great player," said Okur, a forward who sometimes likes to move out to the perimeter on offense. "He makes me feel a lot better about if I leave my man. We have good chemistry."
Boozer scored a career-high 36 points and grabbed six rebounds against the Sonics, but the Jazz fell 129-119 in overtime. Even in a game where he didn't score a lot, like Saturday's 109-86 loss in Dallas that dropped the Jazz to 8-9, Boozer still had six assists, two blocks and two steals to go with his sub-par eight points and two rebounds.
"He's going to be just fine," Sloan said, adding that Boozer's presence has helped Utah return to the low-post offense it used during the John Stockton-Karl Malone era. "He has a lot of things he brings to the table. He's still figuring out who we are, and we still have to figure out who he is."
Twice this season Boozer has set career highs in points and he's got three games with at least 30 points, but the Jazz are a deep team and Sloan's said he wants the team to show more balance in its offense. Boozer's averaging 19.5 points and 9.5 rebounds a game through Tuesday's loss to the Miami Heat to lead the team in both categories, but the Jazz have struggled since second-leading scorer Andrei Kirilenko is out for a month with an injury. Utah has lost five straight games to drop to 8-10, following a 7-3 start to the season.
"AK is phenomenal, he gets points, steals, blocks, he really fills up the stat sheet," Boozer said of Kirilenko, who's had three games this season with at least seven blocks. "He's the best outside defender in the league. He's a big part of this team, and the biggest thing we're missing is his presence. He's great."
With Kirilenko out, Boozer has stepped up. But he's still had a couple of games with fewer than 10 points.
Boozer got off to a slow start in Wednesday's game, missing two of his first three shots and having just 12 points at halftime. But in the second half he got dialed in. Boozer scored 16 points in the third quarter and added eight more points on perfect shooting in the fourth.
With 18.2 seconds left, Boozer made a pair of free throws that put Utah up 110-107. But it was a defensive lapse with 10.5 seconds left, when he left his feet to try and make a diving block of a 3-pointer by Vladimir Radmanovic that tied the game and forced overtime. In the overtime period, Boozer was held scoreless as the Jazz made three turnovers and Seattle ran away with the game.
"We kind of self-destructed," Sloan said of the overtime. "We won the regular game, but we made a couple of mistakes and when Radmanovic hit that 3 we kind of lost our feet. We didn't want them to make a 3, and we made a mistake. We could have forced him inside the line, or fouled him so they got no more than two. We kind of felt sorry for ourselves before we came back out for the overtime."
As usual, Boozer wasn't very talkative after a tough loss (he can be quite jovial before a game, but he suffers losses hard), and in a brief postgame interview he dwelled more on the defensive lapse than on his career scoring high.
"I made a mistake and left my feet against Radmanovic," Boozer said. "I think we're playing a lot harder than our last couple of games. I think we're executing and doing some things. I guess we have to stop making mistakes and let other teams capitalize on them down the stretch."
While the Jazz are struggling, Boozer thinks the team will improve as the season progresses and the players become more comfortable with each other.
"We've got a young team, but we're getting better," Boozer said. "It's a long season. We're very close, all the team's really tight."
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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