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Utah Jazz: Round 2 for the summer of Carlos Boozer begins

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SALT LAKE CITY — Despite previous references to playing in Miami and Chicago, Carlos Boozer has made it clear that he'd love to stay planted in Utah.

"Some people think the grass is greener on the other side," Boozer said Tuesday at the Utah Jazz's locker cleanout. "That's not always the case."

There are others who don't want to see Boozer uprooted from Utah, either.

Deron Williams and Jerry Sloan, for two examples.

"We definitely want him back," said Williams, the Jazz's All-Star point guard who's been Boozer's teammate the past five seasons.

"He may have said some things over the summer, but he's been terrific to coach," added Sloan, Boozer's bench boss of six years. "He's been great for (helping) us have a chance to win. … We like to coach players that are talented players, that give us a chance to win every day."

Wanting to keep Boozer is one thing, and it might be a flattering selling point for the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent.

"You always want to be wanted. It feels great to be wanted," Boozer said. "Especially somewhere where I feel like it's a home place for a homebody."

But being able to make it work financially — to meet Boozer's contract demands while staying within the franchise's budget — is an entirely different matter.

Both parties appear to be interested in at least pursuing a new contract for Boozer, who had an overall stellar season despite a rough start and ending.

Boozer said Sloan and general manager Kevin O'Connor indicated they want him back during their exit interview.

That hasn't been on his mind during the Jazz's playoff run, though. Boozer said he hasn't even talked with his agent about free-agency plans yet.

"All that stuff will take care of itself in a few weeks' time," Boozer said. "They'll be in touch a lot and we'll be in touch with them. If something can happen it will."

Asked about the feasibility of re-signing Boozer and whether the Jazz are prepared for a future without him, O'Connor responded with "no comment." The G.M. did admit re-signing Boozer will be discussed.

"We talked (with Boozer) and we told him we'd be in touch with his agent," O'Connor said. "Any negotiations with that, I really wouldn't have any comment on."

O'Connor also couldn't answer whether the Jazz would be better with or without the power forward.

"I don't know the answer. No one ever does," O'Connor said. "What I do know is that he was a major contributor."

When healthy, at least.

In his six seasons with Utah, Boozer had shining moments, including two All-Star appearances and leading Utah to the 2008 Western Conference Finals.

But Boozer also had his share of setbacks — some caused by him opening his mouth, but most deriving from injuries that prevented him from playing in 28 percent of Utah's regular season games (138 of 492) during his stay.

This past season was one of Boozer's healthiest with the Jazz, but he lost some re-earned public goodwill when he missed the regular-season finale with a strained oblique muscle. A win over Phoenix would have pitted the Jazz against Portland and San Antonio in the first two rounds, but the Boozer-less blowout loss put Utah in the path of Denver and L.A.

Sloan, for one, thought criticism Boozer received from his various injuries over the years was unwarranted.

"He didn't want to get hurt," Sloan said. "That was always difficult for me because he never went out and said, 'I hope I get hurt.'"

Sloan credited Boozer for working hard to get better and do all the Jazz training and coaching staffs asked him to do.

"He's a very coachable guy," Sloan said.

Sloan admitted it was "kind of aggravating" to deal with all of the Boozer questions this season, especially early on, after his player's tumultuous offseason in which he openly talked about being traded.

"Other than that I thought he held himself high," Sloan said, "and tried to do what we asked him to do from a coaching standpoint, and you can't ask anymore than that from a player.

"The nail had already been driven in the coffin when he came back," the coach added, "but I thought he fought through that very well."

So did Williams, who joked that Boozer "didn't know the difference" if fans were booing him.

"They say Boozer — boooo," Williams laughed.

After a slow start in which he hit only 13 of 42 shots and scored just 39 points in his first three games, Boozer went on to average 19.5 points, 11.2 rebounds and a career-best 3.2 assists in 78 games.

"He had a couple of rough games at the beginning of the season, just probably pressing a little bit – a little nervous, anxious," Williams said. "After that he was a monster all year. He's one of the best power forwards in this game, hands down."

Boozer's attitude and effort helped win his teammates over.

"I was impressed, because I didn't know how things were going to go after the summer he had," Williams admitted. "But he came in here with a great attitude, wanting to be a part of this organization, part of this team and played well."

Added O'Connor: "I thought he handled himself in a tough situation pretty professionally."

The 2009 offseason was "tough," Boozer admitted. "But that's history. I was happy to come back and we kicked some major butt."

He's proud the shorthanded Jazz upset Denver in the first round and that the team won 53 games despite injuries and trades (Eric Maynor and Ronnie Brewer).

Though he might be back, Boozer took a moment Tuesday to reflect on his Utah career, during which he averaged 19.3 points and 10.5 rebounds, and the relationships cultivated.

"I've grown a lot. I'm still getting better as a player, grown a lot as a leader," Boozer said. "I've had a lot of fun in this locker room. We've got some good guys, great guys. We might not be the most talented team, but we've got to be one of the most high character teams in the league."

Still, some fans will mostly remember Boozer for injuries, for later-regretted comments about getting a raise and trades, and recent struggles against the Lakers during Utah's 4-0 sweep.

As for the Jazz, O'Connor said the front office will factor in Boozer's "body of work" while deciding what course to take with the power forward. O'Connor was pleased with a defensive improvement and his assists, among other things.

"I thought," .

e-mail: jody@desnews.com