Updated: April 15, 2014 6:32AM
Minutes before game time, Frank Sinatra’s voice belted through the United Center, informing us that Chicago was his hometown.
It was hard to tell if Carlos Boozer was listening.
Nor do we know if the Bulls veteran forward will call Chicago his home beyond this year’s playoffs.
Boozer hasn’t been talking much to the media lately, and that’s fine. He’s tired of talking about how he hardly plays in the fourth quarter. And maybe we’re tired of asking.
He doesn’t like it. That much he’s made clear.
Now the only question is: If coach Tom Thibodeau doesn’t change his strategy of starting Boozer, riding him hard for three quarters and then putting him in the barn, will Boozer pout and become a distraction?
Boozer started the game Thursday against the Rockets and reminded us of what he brings to the table: offense and rebounds. He played the whole first quarter, took nine shots, made five, scored 10 points and yanked down four boards. He also had an assist.
A renowned defensive liability, Boozer held his man, 6-9, 22-year-old Terrence Jones, to two points in the quarter on 1-for-6 shooting. When Bulls center Joakim Noah went out with three minutes left and the Rockets substituted 7-foot Omer Asik for starting center Dwight Howard, Boozer slipped over to guard Asik. Asik didn’t score.
The Bulls led 25-20, and an observer might have logically assumed Boozer would play most of the fourth quarter, when the game would be on the line.
After all, he’s the Bulls’ leading active scorer (14.1 points) and second-leading rebounder (8.4). At 6-9 and a heavily muscled 266 pounds, Boozer is a load.
But things are not always as they seem.
Yes, he had a game-high 14 points at the half, plus five rebounds.
He was even on the floor in the third quarter, when the Bulls blew out to an 85-58 lead.
But the fourth quarter came and … he played not one second.
What’s the deal?
Well, in a 111-87 Bulls rout, nobody was needed at the end.
But, basically, Boozer does not seem to have an overdrive. There are times when he seems sluggish. There are times when he seems to disappear as a defender.
And those moments are taboo for Thibodeau, who believes everything must be gung-ho, 100 percent, all the time.
‘‘Not everything goes the way you’d like it to go,’’ said Thibs, speaking of all his players.
The thing about Boozer, now in his 11th year in the league, fourth with the Bulls, is that his shot is long, slow and odd. Launched like a catapult, it is almost unblockable. Yet time itself seems to halt as the ‘‘Booze Missile’’ lifts off. It makes Boozer himself seem slow. He isn’t, but that’s the illusion.
So if he’s not going to get those minutes in the fourth because of the frenzy of the game, then he has two choices: learn how to do frenzy, or sit and cheer.
Some would analyze Boozer’s body language on the bench and say he’s already pouting. You can’t do that when you’re making
$16 million a year. You can’t do that when you’re on a junior high team.
Privately, Boozer has said that he doesn’t want Thibodeau or anyone tarnishing his reputation this late in his career. If he is let go by the Bulls, he doesn’t want his prospects with other teams dampened.
It makes sense. Every player has limits, including Boozer, who at times can be the only Bull on the floor able to score. But that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t sit late, replaced by frisky Taj Gibson.
Everyone knows Gibson is not nearly the shooter Boozer is. Watch Boozer in warmups. His jump shot rarely touches the rim. He is a rare talent.
But then consider this: Thibodeau is using Boozer just right.
The Bulls are 12-4 in their last 16 games. Their 24 wins in 2014 are the most in the NBA. And that’s without the injured Derrick Rose and Luol Deng, who is gone.
Will Boozer be gone, too?
“People can say or think what they want, but that decision absolutely hasn’t been made,’’ general manager Gar Forman said. Boozer played 33 minutes against the Rockets. He took 19 shots, more than anyone. He scored 18 points. And, yes, he cheered from the bench.
This is what he is: a starting pitcher who needs to be relieved in the sixth inning.
End of story.