CHICAGO – It seems crazy now, but the notion of forward LeBron James joining Derrick Rose and the Bulls was a real thing during the summer of 2010.
It didn’t happen, of course.
James hired Jim Gray for an embarrassing ESPN interview in which he announced he was “taking my talents to South Beach.” Translation: He was joining the Miami Heat, which immediately transformed from a playoff outsider to a championship favorite.
Meanwhile, the Bulls were left with a big allowance to find a free agent.
See: Boozer, Carlos.
Since the day he signed a five-year, $75 million deal with the Bulls on July 7, 2010, Boozer has served as a lightning rod for fans here who yearn for another NBA title. Those three-peats were great, but a 21st century championship was in order.
One problem. Boozer wasn’t LeBron. He wasn’t a lot of star players, for that matter.
Boozer never will be LeBron, but the veteran power forward can help lift the Bulls closer to a playoff series win today against the Brooklyn Nets. The Bulls are tied in the best-of-seven series, 1-1, with a pair of home games today and Saturday.
The cameras will focus on injured point guard Derrick Rose and whatever designer suit that he chooses to wear while he watches the game from the Bulls’ bench. Maybe it’s Armani. Maybe it’s Hugo Boss. Maybe it’s Maybelline, I don’t know.
Meanwhile, the announcers will rave about Joakim Noah and his incredible will. All of that is true, by the way. Noah is a very good basketball player and a Hall of Fame competitor, which was proved by his terrific Game 2 in which he scored 11 points with 10 rebounds despite having torn plantar fascia tissue in his right foot.
But let’s not forget about Boozer’s importance to the Bulls this postseason.
Sure, it’s easy to pick on Boozer for not being better on defense or around the rim. I’ve done it. If you watch the Bulls regularly, you probably have done it, too.
Boozer is built like a Mack truck but plays like a hybrid SUV. He prefers fadeaway, rainbow jump shots to power post moves. He struggles badly on defense. He lacks the type of leaping ability that almost every other NBA player possesses.
But guess what? He’s a really good player.
Entering Game 3, Boozer leads the Bulls in playoff scoring with 19 points a game on 56.3 percent shooting.
He also has averaged 10 rebounds and three assists while leading the Bulls in playing time with 43.5 minutes a game.
That type of production is nothing new to Boozer, who has averaged 17.8 points and 11.6 rebounds in 68 career playoff games with the Bulls and the Utah Jazz. He has averaged more points in his playoff career than fellow All-Stars such as Pau Gasol, Steve Nash, Joe Johnson and Rajon Rondo.
The short-handed Bulls desperately need each of his contributions.
Scoring has been at a premium around these parts since Rose drove to the paint and crumpled to the hardwood a year ago Sunday. Without Rose leading the offense during the regular season, the Bulls averaged 93.2 points a game, which was tied for worst in the NBA with the Philadelphia 76ers and Washington Wizards.
At times, Benny the Bull seemed like a viable option to join the active roster. Maybe Tom Thibodeau could design a couple of screens and have the furry mascot launch one of those behind-the-back, halfcourt shots as he often does during timeouts.
OK, maybe Boozer is a safer option.
Unfortunately, Boozer’s subpar defense is part of the deal. He’s not purposefully negligent on the defensive end – he really does want to do the right thing – but he’s slow-footed and occasionally forgets to slide across the paint for help defense.
At least for now, Boozer’s offensive strengths outweigh his defensive flaws.
No, Boozer never will be LeBron. No, Boozer never will be a fan favorite in this city.
But he’s a really good player.
The Bulls need him to succeed.
• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.