| Paul Millsap's forward progress turned into a big deal.|
|John W. McDonough/SI|
|Record: 48-34 (third in Northwest) |
Points scored: 103.6 (seventh in NBA)
Points allowed: 100.9 (tied for 18th in NBA)
This article appears in the October 26, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated
When power forward Paul Millsap returned to Salt Lake City after a weeklong stay with his family in Downsville, La., he knew he had to hit the gym. After all, his family had thrown a homecoming party complete with barbecued ribs, beef, pork, chicken, baked beans, potato salad and a giant cake with his likeness on it. The fourth-year player needed to work off the calories, but he had another incentive: He had to prove he was worth the $32 million over four years -- including $10.3 million up front -- Utah had just decided to spend on him, matching the offer sheet he had signed with the Trail Blazers.
The Jazz's decision to match was a complicated one because starting power forward Carlos Boozer had announced that he would play out the final year of his contract rather than become a free agent, as many expected he would. It was only when Boozer was out last season -- he missed 45 games with a left knee injury -- that the 6' 8", 250-pound Millsap demonstrated his value. As a starter he averaged 16.0 points and 10.3 rebounds in 38 games, and the team's record didn't suffer. "He's proven he can rebound, and with Deron [Williams] running the show, he's able to get points," says G.M. Kevin O'Connor. "The biggest thing we see is a kid who continues to improve."
Boozer has said he wants to be traded, but until that happens he and Millsap will be part of a big-man rotation with sharpshooting center Mehmet Okur. The extra conditioning work Millsap put in over the summer has improved his quickness -- "His body's changed, and his look is a lot more clean and faster off the floor," says assistant coach Tyrone Corbin -- and will enable him to get minutes at small forward. "I wish I would have done [the conditioning] the last three years," says Millsap. "I can just do more now."
The team that's paying him big bucks will give him every chance to prove that.
-- Elizabeth McGarr