WHEN POWER forward Paul Millsap returned to Salt Lake City after a weeklong stay with his family in Downsville, La., he knew he had to hit the gym. After all, his family had thrown a homecoming party complete with barbecued ribs, beef, pork, chicken, baked beans, potato salad and a giant cake with his likeness on it. The fourth-year player needed to work off the calories, but he had another incentive: He had to prove he was worth the $32 million over four years—including $10.3 million up front—Utah had just decided to spend on him, matching the offer sheet he had signed with the Trail Blazers.
The Jazz's decision to match was a complicated one because starting power forward Carlos Boozer had announced that he would play out the final year of his contract rather than become a free agent, as many expected he would. It was only when Boozer was out last season—he missed 45 games with a left knee injury—that the 6'8", 250-pound Millsap demonstrated his value. As a starter he averaged 16.0 points and 10.3 rebounds in 38 games, and the team's record didn't suffer. "He's proven he can rebound, and with Deron [Williams] running the show, he's able to get points," says G.M. Kevin O'Connor. "The biggest thing we see is a kid who continues to improve."
Boozer has said he wants to be traded, but until that happens he and Millsap will be part of a big-man rotation with sharpshooting center Mehmet Okur. The extra conditioning work Millsap put in over the summer has improved his quickness—"His body's changed, and his look is a lot more clean and faster off the floor," says assistant coach Tyrone Corbin—and will enable him to get minutes at small forward. "I wish I would have done [the conditioning] the last three years," says Millsap. "I can just do more now."
The team that's paying him big bucks will give him every chance to prove that.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE with 2008--09 statistics
KEY BENCH PLAYERS: F Paul Millsap, 8.6 RPG; G-F C.J. Miles, 9.1 PPG; G-F Kyle Korver, 38.6 3FG%; G Ronnie Price, 2.1 APG
COACH: Jerry Sloan (22nd season with Jazz) • 2008--09 RECORD: 48--34 (third in Northwest)
POINTS SCORED: 103.6 (seventh in NBA) • POINTS ALLOWED: 100.9 (tied for 18th in NBA)
Points per possession last year by Deron Williams, Kyle Korver, Andrei Kirilenko, Paul Millsap and Mehmet Okur, the highest rate for any quintet that spent at least 100 minutes on the floor together.
ENEMY LINES | A RIVAL SCOUT ON THE JAZZ
Deron Williams has everything you look for—shooting, penetrations, passing, defense—but where he has grown is in running the team. He's gotten a lot better at the end of games in the high pick-and-roll, the high picks especially. He's going to keep getting better and better.... Williams is an example of how they develop their young guys as well as anybody. They know what they need for their system and they draft to fit what they're looking for.... It was smart for them to re-sign Mehmet Okur for what he brings offensively. Okur is not just Raef LaFrentz shooting from the outside—he'll make you pay on the low block if you don't respect him.... Paul Millsap had a great year by his standards, but I want Carlos Boozer in there for the big games. He's much bigger and stronger, and he's going to carve out more space and knock down that shot at the elbow all the time.... Ronnie Brewer had a very good year. He showed great ability to finish on the break, and he is a really good defender.... Another young player who's coming on is C.J. Miles. He can knock down threes and he can get to the rim—which gives him the advantage over Kyle Korver.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH
PAUL MILLSAP His forward progress turned into a big deal.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH