clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Carlos Boozer must embrace a new role with the Lakers

New, comments

Joining the Lakers in the twilight of his career, Carlos Boozer can contribute on and off the floor.

Getty Images, Andrew D. Bernstein

Adding Carlos Boozer to the Los Angeles Lakers' middling fold could be a challenge, but the results can elicit relative rewards. Of course he's no longer an All-Star forward, or even the $80 million player the Bulls signed after he helped the Jazz average 52 wins between 2007-10. Boozer now is a cagey veteran hoping to redeem himself after the worst season of his career, and his atonement has an array of platforms.

As role players age, they discover the need to reinvent themselves. As the acclaim erodes, so do their bodies, trading uncanny athleticism for cunning intelligence. Boozer's prime entailed a unique middle ground. He attacked off the dribble with an agile combination of brain and brawn, assessing defenses at a moment's notice and making great use of his deft touch around the basket. Boozer has always been an ambidextrous finisher, making for crafty scoring opportunities and underrated interior passing. This was his recipe to averaging 19.9 points, 11.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists over a 270-game peak, during which Boozer earned two All-Star selections.

But those days are gone now, replaced by Boozer occupying Julius Randle's spot in the starting lineup until the Lakers figure the prized rookie is ready. Their positional overlap raised reasonable concerns, especially considering Randle playing big minutes in another lost season is tempting. Throwing Randle into the fire could offer Lakers fans their most excitement in years, but Boozer can bridge the gap between the rookie's highs and lows, allowing the Lakers the opportunity to ease the seventh-overall pick into the NBA grind.

Sporting relatively similar builds and offensive repertoires, the Boozer-Randle tandem can be mutually beneficial. For Randle, it offers an opportunity to learn through observation, shelving his inevitable rookie wall for later in the season when the Lakers are searching for glimpses into the future. He's an undoubtedly tantalizing prospect, but Randle will need help finding his NBA sea legs. and he's excited to learn from Boozer.

"It's amazing," the seventh overall pick said of the Lakers adding Boozer. "It's another great player to learn from, so I'm excited."

With Boozer, Randle can tend to the finer details of his craft. His fatal (and most endearing) quality is his tenacity. And what he adds with his deft touch and ferocious rebounding, he takes away with occasional tunnel vision and inelegant turnovers. At Kentucky, Randle averaged 4.4 turnovers per 40 minutes, according to Draft Express. Sometimes, he would bury his head down and score by any means necessary, something with which Laker fans are keenly familiar. It's a habit great scorers eventually rein in, not break. Having Boozer by his side, and observing from the bench, should allot Randle an opportunity to blend nuance into his rugged repertoire.

This isn't to say Julius isn't gifted beyond brute strength. He's already displayed a deadly spin move, often finishing with a feathery, left-handed baby hook afterward. He also employs the occasional up-and-under in the post, attacks the offensive glass with impeccable timing, and flashes an impressive Euro step, especially for someone his size. But the NBA greatly differs from the NCAA. Defenses are complex, just as opponents are quicker, coaches are more keenly observant, and the 82-game grind makes confronting the rookie wall inevitable -- it's the rookie version of the aging veteran's reality.

Fortunately, Boozer and Randle can merge their realities for the Lakers' greater good. With Pau Gasol in Chicago, the Lakers will welcome Boozer's low-post acumen, thoroughly embracing any wisdom he can offer Randle along the way, especially considering the rookie's remarkable athleticism. The owner of a 35.5-inch vertical leap, he can take any potential lessons learned from Boozer and implement them into his arsenal for his moment in the spotlight.

Randle's time will come, while Boozer's time is elapsing.

For now, under Byron Scott, the Lakers are centered around veterans such as Boozer, Kobe Bryant, and Swaggy P's 360-degree reverse layups. Randle's time will come, while Boozer's time is elapsing. While he professes confidence in playing another "four or five, six more years," how he contributes to the Lakers will be paramount to his future.

As the only proven commodity in the Lakers' frontcourt, Boozer being productive as Randle learns can be an added resource. Of course, he's not preparing for his 13th NBA season in hopes of being a glorified assistant coach, but Randle is the Lakers' power forward of the future, and Boozer understands the talent that has many fans buzzing.

"I watched Randle a lot in college," Boozer said during his introductory press conference. "He had a great, great college run. Great rebounder, great scorer inside and polished."

That description favors the Carlos Boozer we once knew, replaced by an aged veteran searching for a new purpose, a means of redemption after being deemed this offseason's worst addition by ESPN. His best days are surely behind him, but it doesn't have to be all bad. If Boozer can surprise skeptics, then the Lakers have reason to keep him in the starting lineup, allowing Randle to energize a questionable second unit. By underperforming, Boozer could receive the same demotion as last season, when the Bulls routinely benched him during fourth quarters in favor of Taj Gibson.

"I should be out there, but it's Thibs' choice," said Boozer during a February post-game interview.

While he certainly wouldn't be thrilled to relocate and experience another reduced role, and his steady decline warrants concern, something tells me the Carlos Boozer experiment won't be a total disaster.