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Bulls fans need to accept Carlos Boozer for what he is

Carlos Boozer (above) was replaced final minute loss Pacers by little-used Brian Scalabrine who misfired potential game-winning three.  |

Carlos Boozer (above) was replaced in the final minute of the loss to the Pacers by little-used Brian Scalabrine, who misfired on a potential game-winning three. | Charles Rex Arbogast~AP

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The facts: 7, Ch. 26, 1000-AM.

Updated: February 28, 2012 8:21AM

“Why am I out?” Those were the words Carlos Boozer mouthed to an assistant coach after being replaced by Brian Scalabrine with the Bulls trailing 92-89 with 57 seconds left in Wednesday night’s loss to the Pacers at the United Center.

Not only was the Bulls’ third-leading scorer and top rebounder being replaced during a critical moment of a game against a division rival, but backup power forward Taj Gibson was unavailable with a high ankle sprain. That meant coach Tom Thibodeau thought Option C — Scalabrine — gave the Bulls a better chance of getting a stop than leaving Boozer on the floor.

“Why am I out?” The answer was obvious. He was being replaced by the little-used Scalabrine for defensive purposes.

The curious case of Carlos Boozer continues to unfold nightly at the United Center and NBA arenas around the country.

Much of the criticism leveled at Boozer from Bulls fans is unwarranted. It’s not his fault that he’s the player he is and not the player they want him to be. It’s almost as if Bulls fans had a distorted view of the free agent vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Foreman acquired before last season.

What fans see is what the Bulls got. If Boozer’s numbers are down, it’s because his minutes are down. He’s not a great finisher inside. In fact, it sometimes seems his shooting percentage decreases the closer he gets to the basket, although some of those bunnies are bound to start falling. But fans complaining about him settling for jumpers don’t realize that’s what he is being asked to do.

Critics often get so caught up in what Boozer doesn’t do they forget how effective he and Derrick Rose can be on the pick-and-roll. They forget all the times Boozer grabs a rebound and whips the ball to a streaking Rose for an easy layup on the other end. He averages 15 points and eight rebounds while playing just over 30 minutes per game. There’s value in all that.

More difficult to defend are the moments when Boozer becomes a defensive liability and the more frequent times when he doesn’t provide the help Thibodeau’s defense requires in a timely enough fashion. Wednesday night’s game was a prime example. David West, Roy Hibbert and Tyler Hansbrough helped the Pacers outscore the Bulls 50-40 in the paint.

Boozer has embraced the Bulls’ team concept on offense. When he says it’s not about how many points he scores but whether the team wins or loses, he’s being sincere. He made two gorgeous passes to Ronnie Brewer for a reverse layup and a dunk against the Pacers. His face-up jumps shots are deadly and open up the floor for others.

But it’s fair to question whether he has completely bought in defensively. He never has been and never will be a great one-on-one defender. That’s OK. The Bulls aren’t a great one-on-one defensive team. It’s everybody executing their responsibilities within Thibodeau’s system that makes their defense greater than the sum of the parts.

Too often, breakdowns happen when Boozer doesn’t react quickly enough. There is often a hesitation on his part that is more pronounced because we don’t see it with other Bulls.

Boozer deciding against diving for a loose ball might not be something fans in other NBA cities would even notice, for example. But it stands out on a team with a go-for-broke mentality that was illustrated by C.J. Watson dislocating his elbow diving for a loose ball during a 40-point victory over Memphis.

Rose had the ball in his hand in the open floor with a chance to tie the game in the end, which is a best-case scenario for the Bulls. Passing to a wide-open Scalabrine for a potential game-winning three-pointer was the right play. The question Boozer asked of an assistant is one he must ask of himself.

He might not like the answer.

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