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When Carlos Boozer chose the Utah Jazz over LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers

Carlos Boozer's signing with the Utah Jazz was an event marred with controversy.
Utah Jazz forward Carlos Boozer and Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James

Carlos Boozer and LeBron James

Carlos Boozer was one of the “witnesses” who welcomed LeBron James in his first season in the NBA. It could’ve been a great tandem, especially with how Boozer developed into a great forward. But what’s forged in history is that Boozer chose the Utah Jazz over LeBron’s Cleveland Cavaliers — a narrative marred by controversy.

The controversy

Boozer was the 35th pick in the 2002 NBA Draft. Yet the man shattered all expectations by chipping in 10 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in his rookie year, followed by 15.5 points and 11.4 rebounds in his second year. These were key indicators that Boozer should be a long-term part of their program.

The Cavaliers had the option to extend Boozer’s contract to a one-year deal worth $695,000. But since they wanted to give the power forward his money bag, they declined his team option, which made him a restricted free agent. According to the Cavs, they agreed with Boozer and his agent that he would sign a six-year $41 million deal.

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But in a wild turn of events, Boozer signed a six-year, $68 million deal with the Utah Jazz. This was perfectly legal, given Boozer’s status as a restricted free agent. The Cavs had a chance to match the Jazz’s offer sheet, but the $41 million deal was the most they could offer as they were over the salary cap.

War of words

The Cavs sent out an elaborate statement on the matter. Gordon Gund, then owner of the Cavs, admitted that there while there was no paperwork to seal the pact, they trusted “one another’s intentions.” Gund also slammed Boozer for not being a man of his word.

Up until late last week when the trust was broken, I believed in Carlos Boozer, the player, and Carlos Boozer, the person. That is why I tried to do what he said he wanted. We tried to do right by him, by the team and by you in trusting in his repeated insistence that if we showed him respect, he would show respect to us,” Gund said in a statement.

Boozer shared his side of the story. According to him, there was no handshake nor anything to seal an agreement. The only promise he made was to the Utah Jazz.

There was no commitment, no handshake — which would have been illegal under the collective bargaining agreement anyway — but there was none. I’m a man of my word, and the only commitment I gave was to Utah, and I kept that commitment,” Boozer said, per DeseretNews via the Associated Press.

This could be one of the most low-key what-ifs in the Cavaliers’ history. Especially since Boozer turned out to be a star power forward who meshed well with a playmaker. Who knows? Maybe LeBron could have won his first ring a bit earlier never "take his talents" to South Beach.

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