Mill­sap, Nuggets need each other

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - M A RK KISZLA

Paul Mill­sap needs a basketball team. The Nuggets need to save face. This is an NBA mar­riage of con­ve­nience. No­body said free agency was go­ing to be pretty.

After driv­ing the Nuggets’ clown car in cir­cles for weeks, Josh Kroenke hopped on an air­plane Satur­day to Atlanta with his top lieu­tenants and a big bag of money, hop­ing to cut a deal with Mill­sap, a 32-yearold vet­eran quickly run­ning out of time and op­tions to strike it rich.

Des­per­ate to be rel­e­vant in a league where su­per teams rule, Den­ver missed out in re­cent months on Paul Ge­orge, Kevin Love, Jimmy But­ler and Blake Grif­fin, to name just four NBA all-stars.

The Nuggets got re­jected more than I did as a teenager, when look­ing for a date to the prom. Of course, I have never been ac­cused of be­ing par­tic­u­larly hand­some or an heir to bil­lions of dol­lars. So what’s young Mr. Kroenke’s ex­cuse?

Mill­sap pro­vides the last best chance for some­body to make Den­ver feel loved. And maybe an un­der­sized power for­ward who had to work hard on both ends of the floor for Atlanta to earn four trips to the All-Star Game is some­body who can re­late to the Nuggets’ in­se­cu­rity com­plex. It helped that he was un­doubt­edly feel­ing a lit­tle dis­re­spected, with the Hawks pre­fer­ring to tear down their team rather than give him a max deal, and free-agent suit­ors such as Phoenix and Min­nesota balk­ing at the price to ac­quire Mill­sap.

Oh, Mill­sap can make the Nuggets bet­ter. He should get Den­ver to the play­offs, al­though it’s prob­a­bly folly to think Mill­sap can pre­vent a first-round blowout against Golden State, Hous­ton or San An­to­nio.

So why are the Nuggets so in­ter­ested? Well, they had to do some­thing other than be the butt of jokes. Dur­ing the last 48 hours alone, our lo­cal NBA fran­chise has been clowned in so many ways it hurts to laugh.

Ge­orge, the 27-year-old for­ward itch­ing to move to the beach in sunny South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, de­cided to rent for a year in Ok­la­homa City of all places, after re­port­edly telling the Nuggets months ago that Den­ver held no ap­peal. Des­per­ate for Love, Den­ver tried ac­quir­ing the re­li­able scorer from Cleve­land in a three-team trade at least twice dur­ing June, only to see its best ef­forts flushed down the drain by the lowly In­di­ana Pac­ers. And ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt mocked Den­ver man­age­ment on live tele­vi­sion at the out­set of free agency, by telling the Nuggets to quit bug­ging NBA in­sider Adrian Wo­j­narowski on his cell­phone.

Here’s the prob­lem. Try as the Nuggets might — team ex­ec­u­tives Tim Con­nelly and Ar­turas Kar­niso­vas do try re­ally, re­ally hard — Den­ver is a nowhere town on the NBA map, stuck some­where along that lonely road be­tween Sacra­mento and Char­lotte.

The Nuggets have been sav­ing all their nick­els for this year’s pe­riod of free-agent shop­ping mad­ness, and they are hav­ing trou­ble even get­ting their foot in the door to throw a chunk of the Kroenke fam­ily for­tune on the counter.

Ri­vals ahead (Ok­la­homa City, Hous­ton) and be­hind (Min­nesota) the Nuggets in the West­ern Con­fer­ence stand­ings have made sig­nif­i­cant ros­ter up­grades. Through its re­cent ac­tions, Den­ver man­age­ment has let it be known Ken­neth Faried isn’t the an­swer at power for­ward, Gary Har­ris is ex­pend­able in trade, Em­manuel Mu­diay isn’t all that and re-sign­ing free agent Danilo Gal­li­nari is a back-burner pri­or­ity. I tend to agree with all those tal­ent eval­u­a­tions, but I also cer­tainly hope most of those guys are mov­ing on down the road, or else coach Michael Malone might have more than a few un­happy campers in the Nuggets locker room.

It seems to me some­thing Yoda once said ap­plies to NBA free agency: “Do … or do not. There is no try.”

Mill­sap is the best Den­ver can do. KISZLA «FROM 1C Mark Kiszla: mk­is­zla@den­ver­ or @markkis­zla

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