Javier Soriano, Afp, Getty Images
MADRID — The Spanish media gathered at Palacio de Deportes didn't really get the joke.
But a couple of reporters from Utah did, making it hard not to laugh when Deron Williams answered a question about teammate Paul Millsap's play in a 109-87 NBA EuropeLive tour 2009 exhibition win over Spanish League power Real Madrid.
"I think we should try to trade him right now, while he's a hot commodity," Williams said.
The Jazz, of course, won't be doing that, having just this past summer matched Portland's four-year, front-loaded $32 million offer sheet signed by the restricted free agent power forward.
Certainly not after the way the new man of international mystery played this week, having scored 18 in Utah's preseason loss to the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday in London and a game-high 20 against Real Madrid.
Sixteen of Millsap's 20 Thursday came during the Jazz's breakaway second quarter, and he finished 9-of-10 from the field on mostly assertive inside shots — with the lone miss coming on his last attempt, an awkward 16-foot jumper.
Millsap also had three rebounds, two steals, one block and an assist in his 22 off-the-bench minutes.
"He was really active," Jazz center Mehmet Okur said.
"He's played extremely well. He's in great shape. He looks more relaxed than any time I've seen him since he's been with our team," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan added, "and I think he's been able to take advantage with not only the fact he scored points but his ability to do the little things that help you win."
Sloan has an arguably tough call to make regarding whether he'll start usual backup Millsap at power forward during the regular season or incumbent Carlos Boozer, a two-time NBA All-Star and two-time United States Olympian who had 14 points (3-of-5 shooting from the field and 8-for-11 from the free-throw line), three boards, three steals and two assists against Real.
It's a topic hot enough other Jazz players don't want to touch it publicly.
"Not my decision," Okur said.
"That's coach's controversy," Williams added. "It's not mine. I just go out there and play."
Sloan on Thursday said he still isn't sure, but he did tip which way he seems to be leaning.
"When we take our guys off the floor, the way he's playing, his (Millsap's) value probably would be awfully strong for our team to have somebody come in the ballgame," Sloan said. "It gives you instant energy, and (he) scores the basket.
"I haven't made a definite decision," he added. "I have to see how some of these other guys come along. I thought they played a little bit harder tonight on the defensive end. But we can't survive with guys just trying to get by on defense, and using their offense to try to stay out there. I probably did that a little bit too much last year."
In any event, one thing seems certain: The Jazz know they need Millsap on the floor.
That probably includes at the end of close games, which in Sloan's world is much more important than who starts.
"He's gonna have to play," said Williams, who added Millsap was "unstoppable around the basket" Thursday.
"You saw (Sloan) try him at the 3 (small forward), and that's gonna work in some cases, where he's gonna have a mismatch. And I feel like he can defend the 3 at times, depending on who's out there. So, he's gonna have to get time. I mean, we paid him the big money to play — and he deserves to play."
Millsap seems to feel similarly, though he's quite careful about what he has to say and how he says it.
"It's important to me," he said of being on the court late, "but we've got guys who can stay out there and play in game situations — including myself. But any way I can try to help our team, I'm going to continue to do that."
Still, curious minds want to know: Who will start, power forward of the future Millsap or on-the-trade-block-all-summer Boozer?
That includes the brain belonging to Williams, who playfully joined reporters in the international media mixed zone after Thursday's game and posed a question of his own to Millsap.
"Who do you think should start?" Williams asked.
"No comment," Millsap said with a laugh. "No habla English."
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