Utah Jazz: With Carlos Boozer gone, Paul Millsap feels no pressure as Utah's main man inside
Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY ?— Deron Williams still rules the roost. But Al Jefferson seems to be the new fan favorite in Utah, even before playing his first game for his latest team. And Gordon Hayward is the fresh-face rookie, rapidly building a following of his own.
There also is the popular old name who is back for a second run in Raja Bell, the youngster who's due to blossom in C.J. Miles and the veteran — trade-talk favorite Andrei Kirilenko — who always seems to be in the news.
He's been toiling quietly, going about his business sans fanfare since the Jazz training camp opened earlier this week. And that's just fine by Millsap, who'd much rather be banging under the boards than boasting about what he's been doing.
"With everything that's going on, that really puts me under the radar," the typically soft-spoken Millsap said. "There's not really any pressure on me."
That's not to suggest, though, that Millsap would ever think about shying from hard work.
In fact, there was a short time last July — after two-time All-Star power forward Carlos Boozer bolted for Chicago via free agency, and before the Jazz traded with Minnesota for Jefferson — when he openly embraced the burden of becoming Utah's main man inside.
Today, even with Jefferson on board, ex-Boozer backup Millsap insists he'd be just fine if there were no one to share the chores.
"I wouldn't have minded," he said Thursday. "I don't mind having that load, taking that pressure, and trying to win with it, do what I can.
"So, I mean, it wasn't really a big deal to me (if someone like Jefferson hadn't been acquired)," Millsap added. "You know, I knew I was gonna have to get out there and play regardless of the situation. That's how my attitude is."
But asking Millsap to do it all — pick up most of the 19.5 points and 11.2 rebounds per game left behind by Boozer, not to mention his own 11.6 points and 6.8 boards from last season — is deemed ludicrous even in the estimation of someone as demanding as Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.
"I wouldn't do that to anybody," Sloan said. "As long as I've been here, I don't think I've tried to put pressure on guys (that way).
"Yeah, we have expectations," he added. "But most of them have to be realistic, otherwise you have no way of trying to deal with them at all."
Sloan, then, can appreciate that as much as Millsap may be tempted to take on more than anyone can possibly chew, he's also realistic enough to accept how having Jefferson around can only benefit him and the rest of the Jazz.
All in all, he really does like the approach — familiar as it may be — that Millsap has brought to his fifth NBA camp.
"He's always come in with a good attitude," the Jazz coach said. "He's always worked hard. He worked hard from Day 1.
"That's why he gained a lot of confidence in what he's doing, and he's tried to add to that," Sloan said. "He's worked on his outside shooting, he's trying to work on his passing more. ... That's what players do if they like to succeed. You like to have those players around you."
And Millsap, though he's been prepared to assume Boozer's high-profile role for more than a year now, really does seem to appreciate the notion of fellow-big Jefferson being by his side.
He does so even while knowing how the new addition, someone who has averaged 19.1 points and 10.5 rebounds over the past four seasons in Minnesota and Boston, is bound to trump much of his hard-earned thunder.
"When Memo (starting center Mehmet Okur, who is sidelined while recovering from Achilles tendon surgery) got hurt (last postseason), I felt like there was gonna be a lot of load, lot of burden, down low to try to make things happen," said Millsap, who also knew Boozer in all likelihood was headed out of town following a six-season stay in Utah.
"But with the pickup of (Jefferson), it takes a little bit off," Millsap added. "It takes a lot off me, actually — with him down there, and his scoring ability and his passing ability. We've got a good chemistry down there, so things probably will work out pretty good."
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