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Boozer talking, looking the part

Little, if anything, was more frustrating for Bulls fans last season than the ups and downs of Carlos Boozer. And nothing lingered longer after the team's playoff elimination by the Miami Heat than the prevailing feeling that it was Boozer who had let them down most.

Seven months later, it's a little easier to take a deep breath and have some perspective.

Not a lot easier, mind you. The first-year Bull signed a five-year, $75 million deal as the team's Plan B when it was unable to acquire a marquee free agent in LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh. Boozer started the season with a broken hand he had suffered at home, ended up missing 23 games during the regular season, and averaged just 12.6 points and 9.7 rebounds per game while shooting just 43.3 percent in the playoffs.

Playing through a turf toe in the postseason, Boozer was slow on defensive rotations and not the rock inside that he needed to be, while tending to be soft on the offensive end as well.

And in perhaps the most telling blow, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau elected not to play Boozer at all in the fourth quarter of what would turn out to be the series-ending Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Miami.

So when a noticeably slimmer Boozer addressed the media Wednesday at the Berto Center -- saying he had worked on what he felt were his shortcomings over the prolonged offseason, that he was motivated by the criticism foisted upon him and that he would do whatever it took to win -- it was still hard not to be cynical.

For starters, he wouldn't say how much thinner he was. Or what specifically he worked on. Only that it was not useful to look back, only forward.

But as annoying as that was, you realize that when you look ahead to what will be the ultimate grinder of a season, beginning with seven of the Bulls' first nine games on the road, Boozer's production and potential production will still be a reason for optimism.

When he was in the lineup last season, he averaged 17.5 points on 51 percent shooting and 9.6 rebounds per game. But in three of the previous four seasons in which he played 70-plus games, Boozer's average improved to 20-plus points on better than 55 percent shooting and 10-plus rebounds per game.

The rub, of course, is his history of injuries, particularly detrimental to the Bulls last season when it was so important that he develop some chemistry with Joakim Noah (who also played well below par in the playoffs and was held out by Thibodeau in the fourth quarter of Game 5).

In a compressed 66-game schedule in which the Bulls play 17 back-to-backs and one back-to-back-to-back, it's fair to wonder how the 30-year-old will hold up.

"Let's go," Boozer said with a smile. "It's pretty much all games. Either we're playing every day or every other day; it's going to be a fast-paced season, and we're going to have to learn and grow during games as the games go on. That's going to be an exciting challenge for every team, but we're looking forward to it."

Thibodeau said last week that most of the criticism of Boozer last season was "unjust."

"He didn't have a great year but when you look at what he did, he had a very good year and I expect him to be better this year because hopefully he'll be healthy," Thibodeau said. "But if you look at Carlos' career, you're talking about a guy who has performed at a high level and his team has won at a high level, so I'm expecting great things from him this year."

Boozer said he did not mind the criticism.

"At the end of the day, some people take criticism the wrong way but I take it as motivation," he said. "That's how I've taken it my whole career, and I'm very motivated to say the least."

But that's about as far as he'll go in discussing last season.


"If you can go back in a time machine and go back and play it again, yeah, but you can't," he said. "You have to remember we've grown. [Miami] has grown, too, I'm sure, from their experiences and losses they've had. That's history. All we can do now is take what we learned from that series and the playoffs in general, and use the criticism to grow."

With his injuries fully healed, Boozer said, he was able to take part in a full regimen of workouts with a personal trainer, although it will obviously be more telling for every NBA player once camp begins.

"This year I just want to play better, be more efficient offensively, be a better leader, be a better teammate and do whatever it takes for our team to win," he said. "Our motto is whatever it takes, let's win."

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.