It was fitting that Carlos Boozer and Joe Johnson were eliminated from the 2010 NBA playoffs on the same night because both may have played their last games for their respective teams and could very well be playing elsewhere next season. Another free agent who is expected to leave is Chris Bosh.
Bosh, Boozer and Johnson have said they are going to opt out of their contracts on July 1 and join a robust list of super free agents that could include LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Ray Allen and Amare Stoudemire.
Bosh says the Toronto Raptors are “still in the mix,” but who is he kidding? The fact that the Raptors selected a power forward in Thursday’s NBA Draft is a sign that they don’t think Bosh is returning to Canada.
Among Bosh’s hottest suitors are Miami, Chicago, Dallas and New York. The 6-foot-11 power forward has decided to ditch the Raptor dreads for the Georgia Tech clean-cut look, a symbolic move that could mean he is now ready to move on. He recently had dinner with D-Wade and claims free agency did not come up during their conversation. Yeah, right! That’s like saying men buy Playboy magazine to read the articles.
If you believe what Bosh told the Miami Herald recently, the Heat are the favorites to sign him. But Bosh could also be throwing out feelers out there to get a reaction from other ballclubs, forcing them to up the ante.
After the Jazz were swept by the L.A. Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals, Boozer told ESPN’s J.A. Adande the Jazz needed to improve to advance in the playoffs. “We have to improve. We have to improve. We have to get better,” said Boozer, who has been with the Jazz since 2004.
Notice Boozer referred to the Jazz as “We,” a clear indication that he intends to stay. But do the Jazz want him back?
The way the team in constructed right now, Utah is just not equipped to handle bigger teams such as the Lakers, the Magic and the Celtics. The Lakers’ length was a huge factor in the conference semifinals, and bringing the undersized Boozer back would not be a smart basketball decision for Jerry Sloan and the Jazz management.
The Jazz need more size in the frontcourt. They have too many undersized forwards on the team: Boozer (listed at 6-9 but he’s more like 6-7), Paul Millsap (listed at 6-8 but probably closer to 6-6), C.J. Miles (listed at 6-6 but plays more like a guard) and Wesley Matthews.
Millsap and Boozer are interchangeable. You can’t play them at the same time because they play the same position and they virtually take up the same amount of space on the court. Utah signed Millsap to a $32-million deal last summer so they are committed to him for the next four years, making Boozer (who made $12 million this season) expendable.
The Heat has James, Bosh and Stoudemire atop their wish list, but would settle for Boozer if Plan A, B and C falter.
The Hawks are in the same predicament as the Jazz. Atlanta has three forwards in their frontcourt and doesn’t have a legit center on the roster to command double teams on offense and defend the paint on defense. That lack of a true post presence showed up in the conference semifinals against Orlando as Al Horford (6-8), Josh Smith (6-9) and Marvin Williams (6-7) simply couldn’t handle Dwight Howard in the box.
The Orlando-Atlanta series was the most lopsided in NBA history. From the opening tip of Game 1 to the final whistle in Game 4, the Hawks were never in the series, losing Game 1 by 43 points and Game 3 by 30. The Magic had a 25-point average margin.
It got so bad for the Hawks that some fans didn’t bother to show up for Game 4, and those who showed up booed with a passion.
Is the door completely shut for Johnson in terms of returning to Atlanta next season?
“It’s still open. It’s still open. I’ve been booed louder than that. I’ve got a thick skin,” said Johnson, who shot just 29.8% in the series and averaged 12.8 points – eight below what he averaged in the first round.
Though Johnson hasn’t closed the door on the Hawks, a team he has been with for past five seasons, the two-time All-Star is certainly open to hearing what other teams have to offer. Money talks, and Johnson would be selling himself short if he doesn’t test the free-agent market and find the best deal for him.
The 2010 free-agent class has two tiers on the first page. The first tier, also known as “the franchise” list, has two players: James and Wade. Those are the only two guys who deserve the maximum contract. The rest are second- and third-tier guys who are All-Star players but more suited for secondary roles.
Johnson falls into the second tier class. He is without question the best player on the Hawks, but he’s not someone who is good enough to carry an entire franchise on his shoulders. But if Johnson is paired up with a first-tier All-Star, then you have quite a 1-2 punch.
The Hawks brought in Jamal Crawford this season not just for scoring punch off the bench but also as a possible replacement in case Johnson leaves. There is still a good chance Johnson returns to Atlanta, but teams such as the Bulls, Heat, Knicks and other teams with cap room are willing to overpay for Johnson’s services.
Chicago is a very strong possibility because Johnson can share the spotlight with budding star Derrick Rose and the Bulls won’t have to alter what they do offensively because Johnson can slide into the shooting guard or small forward position without a hitch.
This offseason could prove to be one of those landmark times in the league, much like the Summer of ’96 when Shaquille O’Neal and Alonzo Mourning changed the landscape of the NBA by signing massive free-agent contracts with the Lakers and Heat, respectively.
Expect the first domino to fall prior to July 1.
Photos courtesy of NBA Entertainment/Getty Images.