Carlos Boozer explains why he had to leave Cavs in 2004 in order to avoid them being ‘crippled’

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David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

There are some questions on how things might have turned out for the Cleveland Cavaliers had they retained Carlos Boozer in the 2004 offseason. A misunderstanding between the then-promising prospect and organization led to an ugly fallout.

After the 2003-04 season, the Cavs had the option to allow Boozer to be a restricted free agent, giving them the right to match any offer the former second-round pick would have received. The front office let him out of his deal with the understanding that he would re-sign with the team for six years and $41 million.

But, Boozer jumped ship after the Utah Jazz offered him a six-year, $68 million deal. Because Cleveland did not have enough cap space to match it, the team had to let him go.

The big man explained recently that his decision to leave the Cavs was made out of his desire to protect the franchise from any possible investigation by the league for tampering.

“The reality of it was I was a second-round pick, so I had a two-year contract with an option for a third year and they had discussed taking my option away so they could re-sign me,” Boozer said during an appearance on “The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz.” “The only bad thing about that was it would be tampering and [the Cavs] were going to be under investigation. So when we went through the process, they took away my option, they wanted to give me a new contract.

“The league knows everything. So when they took away my third-year option, they were going to offer me a deal around $40 million. But the league was also getting indication that there was four other teams that were offering me 70 [million] plus. So if I would have re-signed, they would have immediately known it was tampering.”

It’s unclear how true Boozer’s claim is, considering the fact that Cleveland’s front office later expressed disappointment with his actions. But for the Duke University product, he believes Cleveland would have been “crippled for a couple years” had he re-signed. At the time, the team had just completed the first year of the LeBron James era.

“So if I had [re-signed with Cleveland], me and my team had gotten wind that there would be an investigation, so I had to move on,” Boozer added. “That’s what the fans didn’t know. I had to move on, otherwise it would have crippled the Cavaliers for a couple years.”

Fans can only imagine how potent a James-Boozer duo would have been. While the bruising forward had yet to be named an All-Star in 2004, he had already proven to be an efficient double-double machine, averaging 15.5 points and 11.4 rebounds per game on a 52.3 percent shooting clip in the 2003-04 campaign.

Boozer eventually became one of Utah’s best players, earning two consecutive All-Star selections in 2007 and 2008. He seems to believe that everything turned out well for all parties involved.

“At the time it was uncomfortable,” he continued. “The extra money the Jazz were giving me made it pretty cool. It ended up working just fine from that perspective.

“Any time there’s stuff being said about you and not everybody knows all the details, and I couldn’t really speak about it at the time, it is difficult. We got through it. Everything you go through is a lesson and there’s something to be learned and something to grow from.”

Still, the possibility that Cleveland could have had a strong frontcourt partner for James is something that the team’s longtime supporters are probably still lamenting to this day. After all, the four-time MVP was able to lead the Cavs to an NBA Finals berth in 2007 with a limited supporting cast.

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Orel is a freelance writer who is passionate about the NBA. He has followed the league since the late '90s and found increased interest in it in 2003 – when an 18-year-old prodigy from Akron, Ohio took the league by storm.