Boozer Trading Morals for Money


July 13, 2004

Carlos Boozer manipulated the Cleveland Cavaliers with money as his motivator and the cost was his integrity. As has been widely reported, all indications are that Boozer reneged on a verbal agreement to re-sign with Cleveland in exchange for having his option year go unexercised by the Cavaliers. While difficult to believe, the facts speak for themselves in this case, and for those waiting patiently for Boozer's "side of the story"-- well, his silence has been deafening for the past four days and counting.

In hindsight, Cavaliers General Manager Jim Paxson clearly made an ill-advised decision by not exercising the team's option year on Boozer for a paltry $695,000. Of course, had Boozer held up his end of their agreement, few would be second-guessing Paxson today. Truthfully, Paxson has been an abysmal General Manager since the Cavaliers hired him in 1999, at which point he immediately began destroying the franchise with a series of inexplicable and ultimately regrettable personnel moves throughout the organization. While difficult to identify Paxson's single worst decision, surely his firing of Mike Fratello (for Randy Wittman), his drafting of Trajan Langdon, DeSagana Diop, and Dajuan Wagner, his trading of Jamal Crawford (for Chris Mihm) and Andre Miller (for Darius Miles), and his signing of Kevin Ollie and Ira Newble rank amongst his most embarrassing. That said, Paxson's drafting and signing of Boozer were both shrewd moves by any standard. The unfortunate reality, however, is that Paxson's legacy as it relates to Boozer will be his recent mishandling of this terrific acquisition-- and only because he allowed Boozer the opportunity to stab him in the back.

All reports indicate that Boozer and his agent Rob Pelinka of SFX approached the Cavaliers during this past season and floated the idea of the team not exercising Boozer's bargain-rate option. Their reasoning was clear-- by signing a long-term deal this summer, Boozer would guarantee himself a lifetime of financial security one year ahead of schedule. Without a long-term contract in place, Boozer was a severe injury away (think Jason Williams) from being out of the league with only $695,000 in future earnings. Clearly, the deal appealed to Cleveland, too, because rather than have to pay Boozer a "max out" contract next summer, they would be locking in a franchise cornerstone at a discounted rate-- the NBA's mid-level exception, which translated to $41 million over six years. In summary, both parties stood to benefit from this agreement, albeit in different ways-- Boozer's upside was accelerated financial security, Cleveland's upside was securing a core asset for less than market value.

Perhaps the most flawed logic in an apparent defense of Boozer is that Cleveland was somehow taking advantage of the player by attempting to sign him for the mid-level exception. In actuality, the Cavaliers were content picking up Boozer's $695,000 option for the 2004-'05 season, which would have given the club the right to match any free-agent offer Boozer received next summer without any salary cap implications. Their decision to negotiate with Boozer one year ahead of schedule was driven by trust; that the organization stood to gain from the renegotiated deal in no way alters the fact that Boozer broke the agreement.

Unfortunately for Cleveland, the inherent risk to the deal was Boozer not keeping his end of the pact. The NBA's Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) prohibited the verbal deal into which both parties essentially entered. Therefore, the Cavaliers had to be willing to trust Boozer at his word that he would in fact re-sign with Cleveland at a price less than he could receive on the open market, recognizing that Cleveland lacked the financial flexibility under the league's salary cap to match a competing contract offer this summer.

Therefore, the Boozer defenders who argue that Boozer never publicly promised to re-sign with Cleveland and therefore shouldn't be criticized for realizing his market value are missing the critical point that had Boozer openly acknowledged a verbal agreement, he would be exposing the Cavaliers to league sanctions for violating the CBA. Similarly, Cleveland has not publicly admitted to a verbal deal, instead referring to "what Carlos told us he wanted" in an effort to avoid the league's wrath. Regardless, these distinctions are purely semantics; a deal had obviously been agreed upon by both parties.

With neither side admitting to a verbal contract, why is Boozer being roundly vilified without hard evidence? To understand, one must turn to logic and realize that despite Paxson's aforementioned shortcomings as a General Manager, he would not have been willing to expose Boozer to free agency without complete assurance from him that he would re-sign with the Cavaliers at the agreed upon mid-level exception. Cleveland controlled Boozer's rights indefinitely simply by exercising their $695,000 option and then by matching any offer Boozer received as a restricted free agent in the summer of 2005. Arguing that Cleveland would have been willing to risk losing an asset of Boozer's quality to another club, ahead of a team option year, solely with the hopes of signing him at a discount is nothing short of absurd. In short, the Cavaliers mistakenly took Boozer at his word.

It should be noted that at present, Boozer has only received an offer sheet from the Utah Jazz and has yet to officially leave the Cavaliers. If reports are true that Pelinka has resigned from representing Boozer, apparently due to pressure from his agency to distance SFX from this mess, and that Boozer is not taking calls from Mike Krzyzewski, one can assume that Boozer's ultimate decision will be primarily family-driven. Carlos Boozer Sr.'s own ethics were called into question after he led people to believe he played basketball for the University of Maryland only to later acknowledge that as untrue, which begs the question as to whether morality will ultimately prevail if family is influential here.

At present, Boozer has clearly demonstrated a lack of integrity by breaking a promise to the Cavaliers. His decision to explore the free agent market and subsequently agree to an offer sheet with the Jazz constitutes a breach of his verbal agreement with Cleveland. Unless Carlos Boozer rights this wrong by re-signing with Cleveland, he has failed to live up to the values of the Duke basketball program and is a poor representation of the overall Duke community.

Zahid Nakhooda