Six years ago, Carlos Boozer and Kobe Bryant won a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics as U.S. teammates.
Times have changed.
Bryant is coming off two serious injuries, entering the twilight of his Hall of Fame career for a Lakers team in a rare rebuilding phase. And Boozer is coming off his most underwhelming statistical season since his rookie year for the Cavaliers in 2002-03, a result of dwindling playing time under Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.
But they are teammates again.
The Lakers claimed Boozer on Thursday, winning the amnesty waiver bidding process with a $3.25 million entry.
That means the Bulls, who excised Boozer's $16.8 million salary from their salary cap and luxury tax figures Tuesday, will pay Boozer $13.55 million not to play for them next season. The Bulls used the salary cap space resulting from the amnesty of Boozer to sign Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic, who will be introduced officially at a United Center news conference Friday.
Boozer, 32, will be one of five big men currently on the Lakers' roster, joining Jordan Hill, Robert Sacre, rookie Julius Randle and Ed Davis, who accepted a two-year, $2-million contract Wednesday. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Boozer start.
And if that's the case, Boozer said in May that he has plenty left in the tank.
"I know I can still play at a high level," Boozer said in a phone interview the day after the Bulls' playoff loss to the Wizards. "My body feels great. I still have 30-35 minutes a night in me and can average a double-double or close to it. I'm excited about the next chapter."
Boozer had told Bulls' management in his exit meeting that he hoped to return. The Bulls shopped Boozer throughout the last two months, engaging in sign-and-trade talks with the Lakers before signing Gasol to a three-year,$22 million deal.
Boozer averaged 13.7 points and 8.3 rebounds last season. Thibodeau lost faith in him shortly after he voiced frustration Feb. 3 in Sacramento over a lack of a fourth-quarter role.
Thibodeau played Boozer exactly 24 minutes — the first and third quarters — 21 times from that day onward. Boozer still posted four double-doubles in those games.
"It was tough," Boozer said in May of his reduced role. "This is a team sport. We all sacrifice for each other. As Thibs started taking my minutes away and only playing me in a couple of quarters, I had to deal with it and be a good teammate."
Boozer said in May he's proud of how he handled outside criticism.
"You really can't control what other people say about you," he said. "Just know what your opinion of yourself is and also the opinions of your teammates and coaches. Those are the people who work hard with you every day and see the hours you put into it, the injuries that you play through to help the team, the sacrifices you make. They know. Those are the opinions I take with me."
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