Boozer saga leaves plenty to discuss

Updated: July 28, 2004, 6:17 PM ET
Associated Press

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Is a handshake worth $27 million? Does a broken promise make a person a traitor?

Welcome to Philosophy 101, NBA style: The Carlos Boozer Story.

Boozer's sudden departure from Cleveland to Utah has been the most hotly debated offseason move this side of Shaq and Kobe, a decision that has opened up new discussion about the business side of sports, where loyalty and the bottom line are often at odds.

It's a decision that could have repercussions beyond the NBA, maybe on the U.S. Olympic team, where Boozer -- the former Cavalier -- and LeBron James -- who still plays for Cleveland -- are teammates trying to work their way through the awkward arrangement on the road to Athens.

"It's a hell of a blow," James said of Boozer's move to Utah. "Anybody knows that. My feeling was that Booze was going to be around. But when he called me, I told him he's got to do what's best for his family."

And so, he did.

On Thursday, Boozer will take a short leave from practice to travel to Salt Lake City, where he will sign the (in)famous 6-year, $68 million contract the Jazz offered him earlier this month.

By now, the story is familiar.

The Cavaliers had an option year remaining on Boozer's contract at the bargain-basement price of $700,000. But Boozer averaged 15.5 points and 11.4 rebounds last season. Acknowledging he was worth way more than that, Cavs general manager Jim Paxson supposedly shook hands with Boozer on a deal in which the team would forgo the option and let Boozer become a restricted free agent. In exchange, Boozer would sign with Cleveland for $41 million over six years.

Shortly afterward, however, the Jazz stepped in with an offer worth $27 million more, one the Cavs couldn't afford to match. Boozer accepted that deal and the debate began: Did Paxson get bamboozled, and if so, was he at fault for taking the player's word? Did Boozer act with malice by breaking his promise? And was there a promise made to begin with?

"There was no commitment, no handshake," Boozer insisted this week, stating correctly that it would have been illegal under the collective bargaining agreement. "I'm a man of my word, and the only commitment I gave was to Utah, and I kept that commitment."

Cleveland fans view that assertion as a lie, another slap in the face -- and it's a city that knows all about them. Although a little farfetched, comparisons have been drawn between Boozer and the city's all-time Benedict Arnold -- Art Modell, who moved the Browns out of Cleveland.

"It disappoints me the way some people have reacted to the situation, because I pride myself on my integrity and my honor," Boozer said. "I want people to perceive me as a man of my word and a man of great integrity."

In many circles, it's too late for that.

Among the intriguing pieces of fallout was the decision by SFX, the company that represents Boozer, to disassociate itself from the player, a rare move that spoke to the bad public relations it must have received in the wake of the contract. The agent who worked out the deal, Rob Pelinka, resigned from the company, as well. Many believe he was forced out.

"We had to part ways," Boozer said. "There were different pressures for him, for his side. He had to do what was best for his career."

Did he feel betrayed by the way the agency acted in essentially firing him as a client?

"Not by Rob Pelinka," Boozer said.

But he left the feeling that someone at the agency betrayed him. Lots of people in Cleveland feel Boozer betrayed them. "I believed in Carlos," Cavs owner Gordon Gund said shortly after the deal went down.

The Jazz and Cavaliers will meet once next season in Cleveland. The schedule isn't out yet, but the date will surely be marked on a lot of calendars.

"I love them tremendously and hopefully, they're still cheering me on," Boozer said of Cavaliers fans. "But if not, I understand the business."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press