Utah Jazz: Boos for Paul Millsap? Ex-Jazzman's preparing for worst in Utah return

Published: Sunday, March 9 2014 8:40 p.m. MDT

Atlanta Hawks' Paul Millsap (4) drives to the basket in front of Miami Heat power forward Udonis Haslem (40) in the third period of an NBA basketball game in Atlanta, Monday, Jan. 20, 2014.

Todd Kirkland, AP

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SALT LAKE CITY — Paul Millsap will have mixed emotions when he makes his first appearance as an opponent in the arena he called home for the first seven years of his NBA career.

The power forward is a conflicted man when it comes to the Utah Jazz.

Millsap loved his time in Utah, but the first-time All-Star power forward has embraced a new stretch-four role with Atlanta.

He got a chance to pursue his professional dreams after the Jazz drafted him 47th in the second round of the 2006 NBA draft, but the Louisiana StateTech product was not re-signed this past offseason as his first team opted to go another direction.

He’s appreciative for chances, but admitted to being surprised the Jazz didn’t bring him back. He called his first meeting against the Jazz in Atlanta in December “just another game,” but didn’t deny that he was anxious.

He loves Jazz fans, but wouldn’t be surprised if he received Bronx cheers in his reception Monday night at EnerySolutions Arena.

"They should boo me. I’m on the opposing team,” Millsap told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution ahead of his return to Utah. “Anyone comes into your house, you boo them. I expect the worst. Hopefully, it’s not what I expect it will be.”

Considering his contributions, his workmanlike attitude, his place in Jazz fans’ hearts and his commitment to Utah’s NBA team and his adopted state from 2006-13, it’s unlikely many, if any, in attendance Monday will boo Millsap. Even if he is on the opposing team.

“It’s going to be great,” Jazz center Enes Kanter said about the reunion game.

Although he’s created a niche in Atlanta, Millsap made it clear he still has fond feelings for his original NBA team. He’s even moved on from how the Jazz opted to go with young bigs Kanter and Derrick Favors while allowing Al Jefferson and himself to chase other opportunities in free agency.

Millsap signed a two-year deal in Atlanta, while Big Al inked on with Charlotte for three seasons.

“I don’t hold grudges. I don’t hold nothing against them, because without them I wouldn’t be here,” Millsap said of the Jazz during All-Star weekend. “They drafted me. They took a chance on me. I’m grateful for the years that I’ve been there. But with all good things, things come to an end. I can understand what happened, so I’m not mad about it.”

Instead, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer opened up his game, and Millsap is thriving. To wit, the crafty 6-8 forward has made more 3-pointers this season than he’d ever even attempted in a single season at Utah. In 55 games this year, he’s made 56 of 155 from deep, compared to a Jazz-high 39 tries last season.

Millsap, who’s back after missing five games with a knee injury, credited his new coach for trusting him in multiple aspects.

“(Budenholzer) helped me with the confidence, giving me confidence to get out there and shoot the 3-point shot, helped me get confidence in a leadership role,” Millsap said. “They want me to take on more of a leadership role, which is good. Hopefully, I can continue to produce.”

Millsap had good things to say about both of his old bosses in Utah. In fact, he joked that the Jazz should have waited to have Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan’s banner-raising ceremony until he could be there.

“They should have had it when Atlanta comes to play them. That would have been great,” Millsap said last month. “I’m very excited about it. I’m glad. It’s about time it happened. One of the greatest coaches of all time. I’m happy for him.”

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