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Whether It's Tonight Or Not, Boozer Deserves Praise

Hm, two Deep Dish items in a row about the Chicago Bulls. Can you tell we're excited about this team? As of this writing, whether forward Carlos Boozer will make his team debut against the Orlando Magic tonight remains unclear. But, should he finally hit the court with Derrick Rose and the boys at the United Center this evening or wait until Friday to make his first start against the Boston Celtics on the road (less pressure?), the man deserves praise for how he has handled his injury.

Don't forget, when the story of Boozer's hand injury broke on Oct. 2, it had all the makings of a scandal. News was leaking out that the free agent forward was going through a divorce and, for a day or two after the accident, speculation ran wild that he may have been hiding the true cause of his broken fifth metacarpal. There was an even an erroneous report out of New York that the Bulls were investigating Boozer's story. We wrote about it here on the Deep Dish.

But the story went nowhere -- probably because there was nothing to it, but likely also because Boozer and his, uh, people didn't let it go anywhere. He said little to nothing about the notion that his "tripped over a bag" story, which has prompted a lot of jokes but little real suspicion, wasn't true. And, since then, he's adroitly stayed on the edges of the spotlight instead of hogging it.

For starters, if you've watched any of the Bulls' 15 games so far in the season, you've seen him on the sidelines -- dressed impeccably, watching intently, cheering on his teammates, and standing near the huddle and listening when head coach Tom Thibodeau is barking out orders during timeouts. A skeptic might say he's faking his rapt attention on the game and the team, but we're buying it. He wants in and he's almost there.

Boozer has also made himself readily available for interviews and given the press regular updates on his injury status. He's made some personal appearances, too, such as this one at Sprinkles Cupcakes on Nov. 3. Throughout it all, he's been clear in his statements and friendly in his demeanor. In short, he's done it all and he's done it right.

Any athlete who gets signed as a free agent in a large sports market like Chicago faces big challenges. The media, the fans, the nightlife. And when you're the team's BIG free agent signing -- especially after the bizarre and sensationalistic 2010 NBA off-season -- you're under even more pressure to prove your value. (For Boozer, that value would be five years, $75 million.)

How Carlos handled his injury could've cast him in a bad light from the get-go, and it could've distracted a mostly young team from its goal of establishing itself as a bona fide competitive force in the Eastern Conference. But it didn't. And now Bulls fans have nothing but upside to look forward to as Boozer finally, finally joins the Bulls.