July 07, 2010

The chase for LeBron James became a little more interesting Wednesday afternoon when the Chicago Bulls agreed to a five-year deal worth close to $80 million with power forward Carlos Boozer, a league source confirmed to SI.com.

A source familiar with the Bulls' thinking said that by getting Boozer -- and retaining enough cap space to offer a max-level contract -- Chicago hopes that it has positioned itself as the favorite to sign James.

James plans to announce where he will sign in an hour-long special on ESPN on Thursday at 9 p.m. ET.

Though Boozer, 28, was considered to be Chicago's third choice for the position behind Chris Bosh and Amar'e Stoudemire, he is hardly a consolation prize. Boozer averaged 19.5 points and 11.2 rebounds in 78 games last season with Utah, re-establishing himself as one of the league's premier forwards after enduring an injury-plagued 2008-09 season. A skilled pick-and-roll player, Boozer is an accomplished inside-out scorer with the ability to attack the basket with either hand.

There is a James connection, too. The two were Cleveland teammates in 2003-04, and though Boozer's controversial defection to Utah after that season created tension between himself and the Cavaliers, multiple sources say the relationship between Boozer and James remains strong. James was complimentary of Boozer when they played together and is believed to still think highly of him.

The Boozer deal was first reported by ESPN.

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