by Bryan Crawford / @_BryanCrawford

The first time I got a chance to see Carlos Boozer in his No. 5 Chicago Bulls jersey and uniform at the teams annual media day last week, surrounded by Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and Luol Deng, etc., it finally hit me that he really was a part of this team.

I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t give me a chill and make me that much more excited for the NBA season to start just to see the actual product compete on the floor. When you have a veteran guy wCarlos Boozerho’s an NBA All-Star and pretty much guaranteed to give you 20 and 10 every single night and you team him with a phenomenal young point guard and a still developing, yet vastly improving young center, as a Bulls fan, you couldn’t help but get excited at the potential havoc this team was going to wreak around the League this year.

But that was Monday.

By Sunday, word had come down that on Saturday — a day off for the team — Carlos Boozer had broken the fifth metacarpal bone in his right hand; an injury that will require surgery (that he’ll undergo on Tuesday) and put him on the shelf for at least 8 weeks.

 Talk about a buzz kill.

In any case, Boozer checks in at No. 20 in SLAMonline’s Top 50 this year, jumping 12 spots from a year ago. After playing in only 37 games in ’08-’09 due to injury, Booz made a remarkable comeback and played in 78 games during the ’09-‘10 season where he averaged 19.5 points and 11.2 rebounds per game. But even more than his play – let’s be honest, Booz puts up numbers like that on the regular – his jump in the rankings is largely based on the fact that everyone with a vote expected him to be a beast in the top heavy, but still much improved Eastern Conference this year. This injury to his hand is certainly a setback to that manifestation.

Carlos Boozer knows he has his critics and acknowledged as much at media day. One of the things he said he was most looking forward to was being able to silence them this season. Of the questions regarding his leadership ability and his attitude, the single biggest knock on him throughout his career has been his health and how seemingly fragile he is (score another one for the critics). It’s worth noting that in eight years in the NBA Boozer has already missed a total of 146 games. Once he does return to action (he’s expected to be out at least 15 games), he’ll have basically missed two full seasons going into his ninth year as a professional, mostly due to injury.

When healthy, Carlos Boozer is one of the best power forwards in the game today. He has good size, he’s a good passer for a big man, he possesses tremendous skills around the basket with the ability to finish with either hand, and when it comes to rebounding, there are few guys in the NBA that can do it like Booz. But Bulls fans already know this and they aren’t trying to hear any of that right now; they want to see it.

In fact, the decision to not go after Carmelo Anthony when the team had the chance will seem even dumber to a lot of people who felt the Bulls should’ve done whatever it took — like trade Joakim Noah who “coincidentally” just agreed to a new extension – to get Melo in a Bulls uniform.

After suffering through suckitude and mediocrity for the past 13 years, this season was supposed to be the beginning of the Chicago Bulls resurgence and the first step toward the team becoming relevant in the NBA again. Most fans thought they would see it happen sooner rather than later but as it stands right now, they’ll just have to wait a little while longer. That shouldn’t be too hard though. Waiting is something that Bulls fans have become accustomed to for a while now.

Ray AllenCelticsSG50361110
Gilbert ArenasWizardsSG4934109
Lamar OdomLakersPF48331410
John WallWizardsPG47NR13NR
OJ MayoGrizzliesSG4646912
Al HorfordHawksC45NR6NR
Jason KiddMavsPG44451210
Joakim NoahBullsC43NR5NR
LaMarcus AldridgeBlazersPF42391312
David WestHornetsPF4131128
Monta EllisWarriorsSG40NR8NR
Andrew BogutBucksC39NR4NR
Yao MingRocketsC38NR3NR
Brandon JenningsBucksPG37NR11NR
Zach RandolphGrizzliesPF36NR11NR
Stephen CurryWarriorsPG35NR10NR
David LeeWarriorsPF34NR10NR
Brook LopezNetsC33NR2NR
Gerald WallaceBobcatsSF32NR6NR
Manu GinobiliSpursSG312978
Tony ParkerSpursPG301593
Kevin GarnettCelticsPF291393
Rudy GayGrizzliesSF284459
Josh SmithHawksPF2740813
Andre Iguodala76ersSG262667
Al JeffersonJazzPF252377
Russell WestbrookThunderPG24NR8NR
Chauncey BillupsNuggetsPG231975
Tyreke EvansKingsPG22NR6NR
Danny GrangerPacersSF212144
Carlos BoozerBullsPF203269

• Rankings are based solely on projected ’10-11 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jeremy Bauman, Maurice Bobb, Erildas Budraitis, Sean Ceglinsky, Ben Collins, Bryan Crawford, Sandy Dover, Adam Figman, Manny Maduakolam, Eddie Maisonet, Ryne Nelson, Doobie Okon, Ben Osborne, Charles Peach, Branden Peters, Quinn Peterson, David Schnur, Todd Spehr, Kyle Stack, Adam Sweeney, Dennis Tarwood, Tracy Weissenberg, Lang Whitaker, Eric Woodyard, and Nima Zarrabi.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.