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News » All eyes are on the Jazz's lame duck

All eyes are on the Jazz's lame duck

All eyes are on the Jazz's lame duck With apologies to the Ringling Bros.' clowns, tigers and elephants at EnergySolutions Arena this weekend, Carlos Boozer will be the ringmaster of a circus all his own today when the Jazz open training camp.

Against all odds, Boozer will return for a sixth season in Utah, after the former All-Star forward decided on June 30 against opting for free agency only to campaign weeks later for a trade.

Instead of heading to training camp with Chicago, Miami or any of the other teams to which he was linked, Boozer finds himself back with the Jazz , returning to familiar if not necessarily friendly surroundings.

Along with Boozer, the Jazz will bring back 11 players from last season's 48-34 team that stumbled to an eighth-place finish in the Western Conference and was eliminated by the L.A. Lakers from the first round of the playoffs in five games.

The Jazz's only personnel changes, in fact, were the departures of Jarron Collins, Brevin Knight and Morris Almond and the arrival of first-round draft pick Eric Maynor, a point guard from Virginia Commonwealth.

They will hold training camp Saturday through Wednesday at their practice facility before hosting Denver in Thursday's preseason opener and leaving Oct. 2 to play a pair of exhibition games in London and Madrid, Spain.

At least at the start of training camp, if not the entire season, all eyes will be on Boozer. The Jazz navigated a similar situation two years ago when Andrei Kirilenko returned to Utah after demanding a trade at home in Russia.

The Jazz held a meeting with Kirilenko, coach Jerry Sloan and general manager Kevin O'Connor on media day to resolve differences. The matter was largely forgotten by opening night, and Kirilenko remains with the Jazz .

But Boozer might be an entirely different matter. Unlike Kirilenko, he is entering the final year of his contract and went so far as to name Chicago and Miami as preferred destinations in a series of interviews this summer.

O'Connor wasn't sure if he would hold a similar meeting with Boozer as he did with Kirilenko. The issues with Boozer involve a player and organization, as opposed to a player and coach with Kirilenko.

The Jazz are gambling that Boozer's return will benefit the team as a whole, with Boozer forced to produce heading into free agency and prove he is healthy after a season in which he missed 44 games with a knee injury.

At the same time, Boozer is a lame duck in Utah and a potential distraction to a team that played better without him than with him last season.

This summer, the Jazz sold Boozer jerseys for 50 percent off at Fanzz team stores and cut him out of their "Be the X-factor" marketing campaign. O'Connor, though, is fond of saying that the sports world has short memories.

He also believes that the Jazz are in a similar position now as the Lakers were following Kobe Bryant's trade demand two years ago. The Lakers stood their ground with Bryant, acquired Pau Gasol from Memphis and went on to win a championship last season.

The Jazz were prepared to watch Boozer leave as a free agent with nothing in return this summer, but are believed to have since turned down a number of trade proposals deemed insufficient after he opted to play out his contact.

With an $82 million payroll, the Jazz are set to be luxury-tax payers for the first time, despite late owner Larry Miller's opposition to doing so. If nothing else, the 2009-10 season will go down as the most expensive in franchise history.

The Jazz face many issues with regard to Boozer, who still could be moved before the Feb. 18 trade deadline:

Did the Jazz and Boozer mutually agree to a trade as Boozer asserted this summer? There is no middle ground on this issue. Either the Jazz failed to deliver on a deal or Boozer tried to force his way out of Utah by mischaracterizing their conversations.

What does Boozer's return mean for Paul Millsap? The Jazz made no small investment in matching Portland's four-year, $32 million offer sheet to Millsap. After finishing fourth in the NBA's Most Improved Player voting last season, Millsap wants to be a starter.

Would Sloan consider starting Millsap over Boozer? At times last season, Sloan suggested that his hands were tied in having to start Boozer after his return from injury. Starting Millsap, however, would be another blow to Boozer's trade value.

What about the dynamic between Deron Williams and Boozer? Williams has acknowledged that he and Boozer hardly spoke this summer, while Williams offered a strong endorsement to re-signing Millsap after the Trail Blazers' offer.

As for the rest of the team, the Jazz made only cosmetic changes after one of their most disappointing seasons. Ravaged by injuries at season's start, the Jazz won just two of their final nine games to drop to eighth and draw the Lakers in the playoffs.

They planned for various offseason contingencies only to learn in late June that Boozer, Mehmet Okur and Kyle Korver each would be declining free agency, steering clear of a market depressed by the recession.

That sent the Jazz's payroll skyrocketing; they are in line to pay $12 million in luxury-tax penalties this season. The pain only was compounded in July when Portland signed Millsap to a heavily front-loaded offer sheet.

By deciding to match the supposedly toxic offer, the Jazz had to make a $10.3 million upfront payment to Millsap. But they were able to keep together a young core of players in Williams, Ronnie Brewer, C.J. Miles and Millsap.

The Jazz also signed Okur to a two-year, $20.8 million extension, leaving them with more than $50 million in salary commitments to Kirilenko, Williams, Okur and Millsap alone for 2010-11.

With Matt Harpring out indefinitely and Collins headed to camp with Portland, the Jazz lose two players with a combined 19 years of NBA experience. They are so young this season, Okur will be their oldest player, at 30.

"It's a very young team," O'Connor said. "I think people forget that, with some of the success we've had. If you looked at our lineup [for] the middle 40 games last season, we had four guys [Williams, Millsap, Brewer, Miles] under 25 starting."

rsiler@sltrib.com Jazz training camp

When ? Saturday through Wednesday

Where ? Jazz practice facility. All sessions are closed to the public

Preseason opener ? Thursday vs. Denver, EnergySolutions Arena, 7 p.m.

Preseason schedule ? Oct. 6, vs. Chicago (London) 12:30 p.m.; Oct. 8, vs. Real Madrid (Madrid, Spain) 12:45 p.m.; Oct. 15, vs. Portland, 7 p.m.; Oct. 17, at L.A. Clippers, 5:30 p.m.; Oct. 18, at Charlotte/L.A. Lakers, 5:30 p.m./8:30 p.m.; Oct. 20, at Portland 8 p.m.; Oct. 23, at Sacramento, 8 p.m.

Regular-season opener ? Oct. 28, at Denver, 8:30 p.m.

Roster moves

Departures ? C Jarron Collins (Portland), G Morris Almond (Orlando), G Brevin Knight (unsigned)

Arrivals ? G Eric Maynor

Transactions ? June: Exercised option ($870,000) to bring back C Kyrylo Fesenko; Drafted G Eric Maynor and C Goran Suton; G Kyle Korver, C Mehmet Okur and F Carlos Boozer all declined to opt out of contracts. July: Re-signed G Ronnie Price to two-year, $2.6 million contract; matched Portland's four-year, $32 million offer sheet to F Paul Millsap. September: Announced that F Matt Harpring will miss all of training camp, preseason and start of regular season with ankle and foot injuries.

Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: September 26, 2009


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