- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Carlos Boozer is one of the most media-savvy players on the Chicago Bulls. He knows when he wants to say something and when he doesn't. He knows the impact his words have, especially on a team that has been defined by an "us-against-the-world" mentality over the years.
That's why Boozer's blunt comments before Monday's shootaround came as a surprise in regard to his frustration with not playing much in the fourth quarter of games.
"I think I should be out there," Boozer said. "But it's [coach Tom Thibodeau's] choice. He makes the decisions out there, so I play. I don't coach. He coaches. So he decides that. "But honestly, he's been doing that a lot since I've been here, not putting me in in the fourth quarter. Sometimes we win; more times than not, we don't. But that's his choice."
This isn't the first time Boozer has been open about his frustration with minutes. He talked about his unhappiness during his first season in Chicago, but he wasn't this direct. Boozer's words were a clear message to Thibodeau and the Bulls' front office that he is unhappy. Boozer's remarks also marked the first time a player has openly even come close to criticizing Thibodeau.
One of the reasons Thibodeau still has so much respect throughout the locker room is because he never publicly calls out a player. Even when he is frustrated with how a player is performing, he refrains from blasting him publicly. That technique works both ways. No matter how frustrated players have been at Thibodeau, or the front office, over the past few years, no player had called out a coach the way Boozer did. Any anger and frustration was held under wraps before Monday.
The reality for Boozer is that he's not on the floor because Taj Gibson is a much better defender. The difference this season is that Gibson's offensive game has developed to a point where there's really no reason to play Boozer down the stretch in games. Boozer has always been a poor defender, but he seems to have taken a step back in that area this season.
Hovering over all this lingering tension is the fact that there remains a solid chance the Bulls will amnesty the final year of Boozer's contract this summer. Boozer's most telling statement may have come when he was asked if he was concerned about how the perception of him around the NBA is changing since he isn't playing crunch-time minutes.
"I can't worry about that," he said. "I don't know what [the] perception is, but the reality is it's Thibs' decision. It is frustrating when you're having a great game and you're not out there to help your team win at the end of games."
Boozer cares deeply about the perception surrounding him. He is a very proud, very sensitive athlete who still wants to contribute at a high level. He also wants to show teams that he's still capable of putting up numbers and being a difference-maker down the stretch. Boozer is well aware of the amnesty chatter surrounding his contract and understands that he needs to play his best to make more money down the line. He can't do that from the bench.
Moving forward, it's going to be very interesting to see how Boozer's comments affect his relationship with Thibodeau and Bulls personnel. Nothing figures to change as far as the rotations go -- Thibodeau simply trusts Gibson on the floor late. It's doubtful that Thibodeau would come out publicly and denounce Boozer's comments given his track record of keeping his dealing with his players behind closed doors.
What will be intriguing is to watch how Thibodeau treats Boozer during games. While the hard-charging coach barks at the rest of his charges, he usually takes it easy on his sensitive power forward, choosing to say whatever he may say in private. Now that Boozer has gone public with his frustration, maybe Thibodeau will decide to be more transparent with his frustration toward Boozer's lack of effort on certain plays.
Either way, Boozer's comments are just another step on a path that seems headed for divorce. Boozer's comments aren't going to make the amnesty hammer come down any faster. His fate will be sealed one way or another depending on what the Bulls do -- or don't do -- in free agency this summer. What his comments will do is leave a sour taste in Thibodeau's mouth because of all the times he's defended Boozer publicly in the past.
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