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Utah Jazz: Millsap's much wealthier thanks to Blazers

Published: Thursday, Oct. 15 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Utah forward Paul Millsap had a long week this summer waiting to see if the Jazz would match Portland's four-year, $32 million offer.   (Michael Brandy, Deseret News) Utah forward Paul Millsap had a long week this summer waiting to see if the Jazz would match Portland's four-year, $32 million offer. (Michael Brandy, Deseret News)

During what might have been the longest six days of his life — a span that started with him winning the lottery, and ended with him happy nothing's really changed — Paul Millsap just wanted to be away.

He tried not to ponder the possibilities, didn't want to predict the outcome: Would the Jazz match Portland's four-year, front-loaded $32 million offer sheet in the time frame for doing so, or would Millsap need to collect his bags, relocate the clan and shop for the sturdiest umbrella money can buy?

"It was a tough week," said Millsap, who tonight will face the team that helped make him a very rich man when the Trail Blazers visit Utah for a preseason game at EnergySolutions Arena.

"I mean, the Jazz waited until the last day — that made it more frustrating on my part. (But) in the back of my head, I realized and knew that they was gonna match, and I just had to be patient about it."

Utah Jazz forward Paul Millsap, shown here in a game last season against Dallas, earned himself a big raise. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Utah Jazz forward Paul Millsap, shown here in a game last season against Dallas, earned himself a big raise. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

To distance himself while the Jazz made many sweat and figured out how they would come up with $10.3 million that was due almost immediately, Millsap sought refuge in his native Louisiana.

"I went back home, spent time with my family," he said. "Just took time to myself and my family … and just didn't worry about that."

There wasn't anyone in particular Millsap leaned on, anyone who made the wait to learn where he'd play this season and beyond — Utah, where deep down he really wanted to be; or Portland, which stepped up with the money, even if as some suspect it was only to fluster the Jazz — more bearable.

Instead — no great shock to those who know him best — was the rock.

"Pretty much Paul," said teammate Deron Williams, who maintained contact with his good friend throughout the offseason. "Even if he is freaking out, you're not gonna know."

It was that way even throughout early July, when everyone in the close-knit Millsap family waited and wondered what his — and, really, their — restricted free-agent fate would be.

"Everybody around me, I had to keep them level," Millsap said. "They was a little frustrated, a little nervous. I tried to keep them calm.

"My personality, you know — I just helped myself, and just kept myself occupied, kept myself away from anything that would bring that up."

Yet from the day the NBA's summer free-agency shopping market opened late on June 30 to the time he signed on Portland's dotted line late on July 10, the 2006 second-round draft choice was consumed by uncertainty and even a pinch of worry.

"Where could I be? Who really wants me? You'd think whoever really wants me is gonna come get me," he said. "Just a lot of things were going through my mind. But primarily I just wanted to stay here, just wanted the Jazz to do something so I could be here."

Instead, they sat back and — perhaps pinching pennies, or maybe in hopes of saving a million or two or three or more — let the market set his value.

Williams, for one, lobbied on his behalf throughout.

"He's a big part of plans for the future," the Jazz point guard said. "A lot of people look at him as a backup, as a role player. I don't. I think he can be more than that. I see more than that in him."

— — —

During the week of decision for the franchise that drafted him, Millsap didn't even touch a basketball — reflective of just how stressful the week was.

"That's odd for me," the Monroe, La., native and Louisiana Tech product said. "Normally I'm in the gym. … But I took that week off for myself."

Millsap — lauded Wednesday by Jazz coach Jerry Sloan for being "better than he was last year" and in "terrific shape" — visited with extended family, played some video games and mostly stayed close to the couch.

Never once, though, did he crack — comforted, at least, by the notion that $32 million spends almost as well in Portland as it does in Salt Lake City.

— — —

Curiously, during the courtship process, Millsap never met with Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard or coach Nate McMillan.

Never visited Portland in July, either.

No wonder he still isn't sure if the match was meant to be.

"I mean, who knows? Who knows?" he said.

"You know, we can say it would have been a good fit — and during the season it could not have been. You know, who knows? I can't be the judge of that, can't tell that."

Nor does he have any idea how he would have melded with a Portland lineup that includes big men LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden.

So even though Millsap may continue to take something of a back seat among Jazz bigs as long as one-time NBA All-Star center Mehmet Okur and two-time All-Star power forward Carlos Boozer are in Utah's picture, there was comfort in the known.

"I believe they would have found time for me, in a worst-case scenario, if that would have happened," Millsap said before addressing — for the umpteenth time — one of Jazz training camp's hot-button issues.

"But it's the same scenario here, if you look at it. So I'm not really paying too much attention to who's gonna start and who's not starting. Just however I can get in, I'm gonna get in."

— — —

As for whether or not the Blazers were merely playing games with the Jazz by making the offer as — their word — "toxic" and difficult to match as possible, it's a popular theory.

"I'm not gonna speculate," Williams said, "but you'd have to think something like that."

Millsap doesn't deny the possibility.

"You never know what other teams want with you," he said. "They could possibly have traded me. You know, who knows? … I didn't really want to go down the road and see what was at the end of that road, so that's why I just wanted it to be easy and wanted to be here.

"You knew somewhere down the line somebody was gonna throw in a monkey wrench, so … all I could do was just sit back and wait until everything was said and done and set in stone."

— — —

Next Tuesday, the Jazz pay a preseason visit of their own to Portland — one of six combined exhibition/regular-season games between Utah and the Blazers in just more than four months.

He won't, but Millsap — as one scribe suggested Wednesday — would have every right while there next week to wrap his arms around billionaire Blazers owner and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and hug him as hard as he can.

"I mean, I should, right? I should. I should," he said with a laugh. "I should hug the whole front office, right?

"But, nah," Millsap added, suddenly turning serious. "It's a business, you know. I'm real grateful for what they did. Things worked out.

"It could have been a whole different story if I would have got there, but … what happened happened. I'm glad I'm here. It made it a whole lot easier on me and my family, and it was the best thing for me."

— — —

Had the Jazz not matched, 24-year-old Millsap said he and his closest relatives — including mother Bettye, his three brothers and uncle/agent DeAngelo Simmons — were prepared to move to Portland.

Instead, after renting for three years, he bought a house for himself and the whole family here in Salt Lake City.

How soon?

"Uh, right after the I got contract," said Millsap, who also has two daughters.

Some in the Jazz organization have suggested Millsap should soon consider venturing out on his own, but — especially now that his ship's in — he wouldn't think of it.

"I keep my family around me," Millsap said. "They've been here so far. They've supported me a lot. It's good to have that support — wherever you're at.

"The people around me are the best people I could ever have. They've helped me a lot. They're not gonna let me do anything crazy or something stupid for my money to be gone."

He sees no reason whatsoever for cutting ties.

"It's worked so far. So far it's great," Millsap said "Ever since I got the contract, nothing really has changed. Things have really stayed the same. And the people who are around me are for my best interest.

"They care about my best interest — me first — and I really appreciate that. You know, I'm not a selfish guy. I'm gonna try to help my family as much as possible — and the way they look at it, it's 'me.' I respect that."

Whether it meant staying or packing, then, everyone Millsap was prepared for whatever was to come.

"If I had gone to Portland, they was headed up there with me," he said. "That's just how they are. We move in packs. We stay together."

e-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com

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