Three hundred seventy-five days after his name last rang out over the Delta Center loudspeakers, Carlos Boozer was greeted by a lukewarm mixture of cheers and boos Tuesday night. But isn't that how it's always been?
This hasn't been a clear-cut case for a long time. Not since those promising days in Cleveland two years ago, when he and LeBron James were the future of the franchise. After that, the forecasts started coming in fair to partly cloudy.
Are the six rebounds he collected in the second quarter an indicator, or the air ball he put up at the end of the third quarter? The smooth first-quarter fadeaway, or the silly foul after letting Michael Olowokandi bolt uncontested to the basket? The pleasant, well-spoken Boozer, or the Boozer who didn't come out to his locker, Tuesday, until nearly all the media had left, then tried to leave without comment?
So Boozer remains an ongoing mystery. On one hand, his potential is undeniable. The Jazz desperately need an inside presence and their fans need hope. Boozer is a lot like high-priced gasoline. We hate what it does to us and want to avoid dependence. At the same time, we can't seem to give it up.
As the months passed, sympathy changed to puzzlement, which became irritation and eventually ballooned into outrage. Meanwhile, the $960,000-a-month paychecks kept rolling in.
In familiar Boozer fashion, he staged his official return on the road, Feb. 10, where he could avoid attention and deflect criticism.
Same way he managed to miss road games in Cleveland the last two years, where he would have faced an audience still angry at his desertion. In Salt Lake the criticism hasn't gone that far. Some still feel he will lead the Jazz back to respectability, but others have written him off as a gold digger who hoodwinked the Cavaliers into releasing him to free agency.
Thus, boos combined with the cheers when he entered the game with 3:44 left in the first quarter, Tuesday. There were Boozer Believers and Boozer Bashers. (Somewhere in there, it should be noted, there were those who simply called out "Boooze!")
As his name was called out, the JumboTron showed a series of his dunks to pump up the crowd. "Checking in, everybody, No. 5, Carlos BOOOZER!" said the P.A. announcer.
In the end, his return to Salt Lake really didn't answer many questions, except that he's fairly healthy. He scored six points and grabbed 10 rebounds in 26 minutes — his longest appearance of the year.
But the Jazz lost miserably. Although the embarrassing 103-83 defeat to Boston clearly wasn't all his fault, the question remained: Does Boozer make the Jazz any better?
After the game, it was the same Boozer as always. When he did arrive, he spoke in a monotone, rolling out a handful of cliches about competing and winning and seeing what happens. "It was good to be back out there, I just wish we would have come away with a victory," he said. Asked specifically about the crowd, he went into some sort of alternate reality, saying, "It was one of the better responses I've got. I don't think I've heard that since I was at Duke. It was a great reception."
He wore his trademark nine-mile stare throughout. There was no laughter. If the media or Jazz fans were expecting some show of emotion, it didn't come. Even John Stockton at his most stubborn was never this opaque. The former Jazz All-Star may not have been chatty, but there was never any doubt about his desire.
With Boozer you wonder.
When he did finally talk, Tuesday, it was hardly worth the wait. Carlos the Transparent he's not. He tossed out a few bones to the media, without actually shedding light on his situation. Then he disappeared into the night, leaving no one the wiser about his future in Utah than they were 375 days ago.