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Utah Jazz: Okur and Boozer both decide to stay with Jazz

Utah's Mehmet Okur gets a high-five from Carlos Boozer during the 2008 playoffs. Both players decided to remain under contract with the Jazz for the 2009-10 NBA season.
Utah's Mehmet Okur gets a high-five from Carlos Boozer during the 2008 playoffs. Both players decided to remain under contract with the Jazz for the 2009-10 NBA season.
Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

Starting center Mehmet Okur is back for another season and may stay much longer.

Starting power forward Carlos Boozer is back for another season as well, but he might never get a chance to play it in Utah.

Boozer on Tuesday afternoon informed the Jazz he would exercise his right to opt in for the sixth and final year of his current contract, which is valued at $12,657,233.

In doing so, he — like Okur — bypasses the NBA summer free-agency shopping market that opened at 10 p.m. Tuesday.

The decision — according to some with knowledge — is at least more palatable to the Jazz than signing Boozer to a long-term deal.

Its fallout, in part, is that Okur — who had an early termination option — decided to return for the 2009-10 season as well, with his salary set at $9 million.

So while suggestions abound Tuesday night from outside the organization that the Jazz may now try to trade Boozer, perhaps before next season gets under way, the possibility remains that Okur will continue extension talks with the team later this offseason.

"He's quite happy both in Salt Lake and with the system and the team, and he never really wanted to leave," said Okur's agent, Marc Fleisher. "So, he didn't opt out and he's happy where he is."

Further cheery news for the Jazz is that — combined with backup shooting guard Kyle Korver's decision Monday to not opt out of the last season of his deal — a potentially crazy summer just got quite calmer.

"What it does is it gives us contractual obligations where we had question marks," Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor said Tuesday night. "It gives us certainty."

Until, that is, it gets wacky again next summer.

Fleisher, for instance, flew from Connecticut to Utah on Monday night, and on Tuesday afternoon he discussed the possibility of an extension with O'Connor.

For a time, Fleisher also considered putting his client — a one-time NBA All-Star — on the open market.

But when Boozer opted in, and the amount of money the Jazz had to spend suddenly took a hit, all bets were off.

Now, Okur can either enter the market as an unrestricted free agent in 2010 — when many NBA teams are expected to have more cash and team payroll salary cap space, and perhaps a deal can be had that starts at more than $10 million — or negotiate a long-term extension some time in the months to come. "I think that's something we'll discuss as we go forward," Fleisher said.

Added O'Connor in a statement released by the Jazz: "He (Okur) has clearly been an integral part of our success since his arrival, and we are hopeful that he will continue to perform at such a high level in the future."

Boozer, meanwhile, vowed in December that he'd both opt out and get a pay raise.

The day after the Jazz's 2008-09 season ended in late April with a first-round playoff loss to the eventual NBA-champion Los Angeles Lakers, the two-time All-Star said that he considered himself a "cornerstone" of the franchise.

But Boozer (who did not respond to a request for comment made through the team) also said on locker cleanout day that he could not at all envision a scenario where he'd exercise his option to return for one more season in Utah — someplace he hasn't always been happy.

The only way he'd stay with the Jazz, he suggested then, was if they were to offer a multi-year deal — and it seems they weren't about to do that.

And yet on Monday Boozer decided to stay anyway.

Beaten by another injury-plagued season, an ailing national economy and a dry free-agency market not suited to matching his asking price, he had little choice but to reverse course.

No free agency, then, this summer.

No more money.

No doing what he had insisted he would.

"We hope," O'Connor said Tuesday night, "that he can stay injury-free and play like he did in 2007-08."

Boozer — who now will be unrestricted in 2010, unless he agrees to an extension with a team to which he's traded — endured a 2008-09 season interrupted for him by a quadriceps strain and subsequent knee surgery.

He's missed about one-third of his games during his five seasons in Utah due to injury, including 31 in 2004-05, 49 in 2005-06 and 45 in '08-09.

But Boozer did play 81 of 82 regular-season games in '07-08, when he averaged 10.4 rebounds and a career-high 21.1 points per game.

The money-driven decision could prove quite costly to the Jazz, as their projected payroll for next season — not including money for backup power forward/restricted free agent Paul Millsap and a required 13th player — has been pushed by Boozer's opt-in to a way-over-the-cap $73,907,990.

That also puts the Jazz a pinch over the NBA's projected payroll luxury tax threshold for next season, and — if they do retain Millsap, which evidently continues to be the plan — it could mean they'd be looking at paying more than $13 million in tax penalties.

The Jazz, though, can save some money by trading Boozer and taking back a player or players whose salaries for next season total just 75 percent of his.

It's something that could happen sooner rather than later, according to those in-the-know.

Boozer had been seeking a deal starting at about $14 million in the coming season, but his only obvious suitor with both interest and spending money — Detroit — evidently was not willing to start him at much, if any, more than $12 million.

And that prompted Boozer's camp to swallow pride, change plans and remain in Utah.

"It had nothing to do with love for Salt Lake City, that's for sure," ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard told ESPNews.

Carlos Boozer

Career (432 games): 16.8 ppg10.0 rpg53.6 FG%

2008-09 (37 games): 16.2 ppg10.4 rpg49.0 FG%

Mehmet Okur

Career (531 games): 13.9 ppg7.2 rpg46.1 FG%

2008-09 (72 games): 17.0 ppg7.7 rpg48.5 FG%