ATLANTA — For the first three years of his professional career, Paul Millsap was a steal of a deal by NBA standards.
Millsap's salary of $797,581 in his third season was far from being chump change, unless you factored in his productivity compared to some guys making five, 10, even 20 times that much.
Even after striking a rich deal — with a hefty bonus and a front-loaded $10.2 million payday — look who's suddenly one of the biggest bargains in the league again in Year No. 5.
(Clue: The bargain was the one launching swish-after-swish-after-swish from behind the torch-the-Heat line earlier this week.)
It's been more than a year since he signed that lucrative four-year, $32 million deal, but factor in that productivity of his again and, well, the Jazz will run to the bank smiling with Millsap to pay him $6.2 million this year.
But just making money is one thing.
Doing what's necessary to deserve that cash is another, and Millsap has shown he's more about the latter than the former.
"He got a nice paycheck," Jazz point guard Deron Williams said, "and is earning that paycheck with what he's been able to do on the floor."
That, by the way, was said by Williams hours before Millsap unloaded his complete arsenal against Miami.
"Just the way he played was great. It was brilliant," Williams said. "His back's going to be hurting tomorrow from carrying us."
That, of course, was said after Millsap's career outing.
But to his teammates, Millsap's monstrous 46-point night and 11-point flurry in the final 28.7 seconds, only did a few things. For one, it saved their bacon after they'd fallen behind the Heat by 22 points.
Also, it validated what they knew already — that the range of his soft shot extends beyond the 3-point arc — and it gave his buddies an opportunity to razz him about their nickname for him, "Miss Bettye's son," a phrase that was uttered umpteen times in the spirited Jazz locker room after the 116-114 overtime victory.
Millsap took it all in with a smile.
"That's their thing," he said of the nickname, which incorporates his mom's name. "They play too much."
They kid because they care, and they should. Millsap has made the 5-3 Jazz, who play tonight at Atlanta, a better team while doing something else many people from Louisiana and Utah are accustomed to his doing now: overcoming odds and obstacles.
With the support of his mom, uncle and now agent DeAngelo Simmons and his brothers, Millsap earned his way onto the Louisiana Tech basketball team from his tiny town of Grambling, La.
Once at Karl Malone's old stomping grounds, the supposedly undersized 6-foot-8 Millsap hustled, boxed out, jumped and pounded his way to an unprecedented three consecutive NCAA rebounding titles.
Overlooked by 30 teams in the first round, including the Jazz, Millsap immediately worked his way into coach Jerry Sloan's rotation as a rookie after falling all the way to the No. 47th pick of the 2006 NBA Draft.
Since then, Millsap has worked through and played around patiently being Carlos Boozer's understudy, finding himself in mismatched situations because of his limited size, gutting it out for all but six games in four-plus seasons despite various aches and pains, being labeled as banger without a shot past point-blank range.
And now, though he is happily playing alongside him, Millsap is thriving with a new big man on the team, Al Jefferson, who many thought would pair up with Williams to be a modern-day Stockton-to-Malone. It might be a D-Will-to-Millsap-and-Big Al combo.
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