Friday , Jul , 30 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Utah makes splash in free agency

(Sports Network) – The Utah Jazz have officially signed restricted free
agents Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur, as Cleveland and Detroit declined to
match the offers that were extended to them.

Both players signed offer sheets with the Jazz on July 14, which was the first
day that teams were able to begin signing players. Boozer and Okur both
received lucrative multi-year contracts from Utah. The Cavaliers and Pistons
had 15 days to match the offers, but decided to allow the players to move on
with their careers.

The 22-year-old Boozer, who will be playing for the United States in the 2004
Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, averaged 15.5 points and 11.4 rebounds in 75
games for the Cavaliers in 2003-04. Originally selected out of Duke by
Cleveland in the second round (35th overall) of the 2002 NBA Draft, Boozer
also had a solid rookie campaign as he averaged 10 points and 7.5 boards in 81
contests.

“It’s really exciting, I’m really thrilled to be here and finally ink the deal
down and move forward as being a member of the Utah Jazz,” said Boozer.

Boozer’s signing created a lot of controversy, as he was rumored to have made
a commitment to Cleveland to sign a long-term contract with the Cavaliers if
they allowed him to become an unrestricted free agent. Such an agreement is
not allowed in the NBA and if a franchise committed this act it would be
subject to substantial penalties.

“There was no commitment, it’s unfortunate how it went through the media but
I’m really excited to be in the situation I’m in,” said Boozer. “They
(Cleveland) moved forward, I moved forward and I’m looking forward to the
season with the Jazz. It’s against the rules fist of all to have (an
agreement). I’m not a guy that gives my word and then takes it away, I think I
made that clear.”

The Duke product is a great fit for Utah, as he will add the inside presence
that the Jazz lacked last season. Boozer will most likely star at power
forward, with All-Star Andrei Kirilenko at small forward and Okur at center.
Joining an up-and-coming frontcourt had to make signing with the Jazz
appealing to the former Cavalier.

“To be honest – everything (attracted him to Utah),” said Boozer. “They have a
legendary coach (Jerry Sloan), a great organization of course, and really good
players. Andrei Kirilenko, Carlos Arroyo, Matt Harpring, Mehmet Okur, (Gordon)
Giricek, I mean the list goes on. We have a great system, just a great
environment. It seems like a really family oriented city which is really
attractive to me, with my personal situation.”

The 25-year-old Okur, who was originally selected by Detroit in the second
round (38th pick overall) of the 2001 NBA Draft, has started 42 games in his
two years in the league. He also played in 39 playoffs games as a member of
the Pistons.

In 2003-04, Okur played in 71 contests for the world champion Pistons and
averaged 9.6 points and 5.9 rebounds in a little over 22 minutes per game. In
2002-03, which was his first season in the NBA, Okur appeared in 72 contests
and netted 6.9 points and pulled down 4.9 boards in 19 minutes per game. By
signing with the Jazz, the 6-11 Okur will get the opportunity to start and
play significant minutes.

“Mehmet and I spent a lot of time talking about what was best for Mehmet’s
career,” said Okur’s agent Marc Fleisher. “Obviously he had the wonderful
experience of winning a championship in Detroit. I’ve represented a lot of
players for a long time, most of them have never had that opportunity. But I
think that Mehmet realized that with that now under his belt there were a lot
of other things he wanted to achieve and perhaps the best place for him do
that was here (Utah). The style that’s played here, the makeup of the team,
there were a lot of factors that went into this decision. We sort of bantered
it back and forth and it all sort of fit into place and we realized that this
was a place for him to spend the next several years here. And I’m happy that
Kevin (O’Connor) and I were able to reach an agreement relatively quickly. I
think we both understood what it was going to take to get it done, and we were
able to accomplish that. So I’m thrilled and I think Mehmet’s thrilled,
“Mehmo” as you all will learn to call him soon, so we’re happy that he’s going
to be here.”

Okur and Boozer give Utah some much needed size down low. The Jazz hope that
Okur will not only rebound, but that he will also be able to score from the
low post, which is something that the Jazz were not able to do consistently in
2003-04.

“I’m so excited right now and I picked Utah because I liked the way they
played last year and I like the coach a lot,” said Okur. “I like Kirilenko, we
used to play against each other in Europe. I know Gordan (Giricek), (Raul)
Lopez, (Carlos) Arroyo and I’m so excited right now, I can’t wait to play with
them. If you look at last year I had good experience, I had great career with
Detroit, and I came here and I bring experience. I can’t wait to play with
them, I’d like to thank everybody here who supports me.”

If the Jazz do nothing else in the offseason, Utah fans have to be thrilled
with the team that they will watch play in 2004-05. Boozer and Okur give the
Jazz, who finished 42-40 and missed the playoffs by just one game last season,
a serious chance at returning to the postseason. Boozer and Okur are young and
have a lot of productive years in the NBA left. Cleveland and Detroit’s loss,
is Utah’s gain.

“I hope we can win a championship, that’s my goal,” said Boozer. “And from
talking to everybody in the organization that’s everybody else’s goal here
too. So that’s our goal whether it’s next year, whether it’s three or four
years, whenever it is – that’s our goal.”

UTA