Can Mill­sap jus­tify his colossal price tag?

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - M A RK KISZLA Den­ver Post Colum­nist

How much did the Nuggets over­pay for power for­ward Paul Mill­sap? While far be it from me to rain in­con­ve­nient truth on Mill­sap’s pa­rade to the Pepsi Cen­ter, he will earn $365,854 for ev­ery game played in his new home.

It’s a hefty price Den­ver will be hard­pressed to jus­tify at the box of­fice or in the Western Con­fer­ence stand­ings.

While the grit-over-flash style of Mill­sap casts him a work­ing-class hero, can he re­ally move the nee­dle for the team with the NBA’s worst at­ten­dance? Mill­sap could walk down the 16th Street Mall and not get rec­og­nized by 95 in 100 of his new neigh­bors.

Nev­er­the­less, the Nuggets’ new $60 mil­lion (guar­an­teed) man will get paid more next sea­son than Kevin Du­rant. Any way you spin that lit­tle fac­toid, Mill­sap does lit­tle of con­se­quence to close the gap be­tween Den­ver and Gold-

en State in a league tilted in fa­vor of the su­perteams. Mill­sap, how­ever, will al­low the Nuggets to com­pete for the No. 6 seed in the West against Port­land, the Los An­ge­les Clip­pers and New Or­leans, with one doomed to be left out of the play­off bracket.

In a league ruled by stars, Mill­sap stands firmly in the third tier of power and in­flu­ence. Tier 1 is re­served for fran­chise play­ers iden­ti­fied by one name: Le­Bron, Steph, Russ. Tier 2 fea­tures the movers and shak­ers reg­u­larly re­served a spot on past and fu­ture all-league teams: Chris Paul, Dray­mond Green and Karl-An­thony Towns. Tier 3? While Mill­sap earned four trips to the All-Star Game while toil­ing in the jayvee con­fer­ence with At­lanta, he has not been named one of league’s 15 best play­ers dur­ing any of his 11 pro sea­sons, a feat Carmelo An­thony ac­com­plished four times with the Nuggets.

If I have learned any­thing from watch­ing Stan Kroenke build a sports em­pire, it’s he ex­pects to max­i­mize re­turn on ev­ery in­vest­ment. So in the in­ter­est of Josh Kroenke’s peace of mind, here are my hum­ble sug­ges­tions on how the Nuggets can get the most bang for the buck from Mill­sap: the high­est-paid ath­lete in town, tell me how many play­off se­ries the Nuggets will win be­tween now and 2020 if he’s their best player. My an­swer is zero. If he is Den­ver’s lead dog at age 32 and be­yond, then the young tal­ent on the ros­ter has been trag­i­cally over­es­ti­mated by Tim Con­nelly and the front of­fice.

Mill­sap’s job here is to do the grunt work on the glass and get down and dirty on de­fense while be­ing the voice of author­ity in the locker room, all to give Jo­kic and Ja­mal Mur­ray the space to grow into the real stars of this team. Ac­quir­ing Mill­sap cost the Nuggets more than money. It cost the team its lead­ing scorer, Danilo Gal­li­nari, off­loaded to the Clip­pers to re­lieve a salary cap squeeze. Is Mill­sap an up­grade over Gallo? No doubt. But Con­nelly has noth­ing more to show for Gal­li­nari than a sec­ond-round draft choice ob­tained in a sign-and­trade deal. That’s a joke.

Gallo and his 18.2-point scor­ing av­er­age were deemed too es­sen­tial in the fu­tile pur­suit of a first-round sweep against the War­riors to trade in Fe­bru­ary, when ev­ery­body knew he was due to be­come an un­re­stricted free agent. Gal­li­nari, how­ever, was sud­denly deemed ex­pend­able in July, as a hin­drance to the de­vel­op­ment of Juan­cho Her­nan­gomez? At best, there’s se­ri­ous flaws in the logic that placed the small short-term gain of a play­off berth over the long-term good of the fran­chise. At worst, it was an ex­am­ple of bad as­set man­age­ment by an or­ga­ni­za­tion that loves to talk trade but has dif­fi­culty ac­tu­ally pulling the trig­ger.

Con­nelly likes to boast Den­ver is blessed with great tal­ent with mov­able con­tracts that al­low the team to be ag­gres­sive in trade ne­go­ti­a­tions. Well, the Nuggets ran the value of Gal­li­nari into the ground. Faried and Chan­dler are both on the books for an an­nual salary un­der $13 mil­lion. Chan­dler has groused about want­ing out of Den­ver, and Faried is now stuck on the bench be­hind Mill­sap. Let’s hope Mill­sap em­bold­ens Con­nelly to move Faried and Chan­dler be­fore their trade value is also squan­dered.

Can Mill­sap be a pied piper? The Tim­ber­wolves got Jimmy But­ler. The Thun­der got Paul Ge­orge. That’s why I’ve got a po­lite golf clap for ac­quir­ing Mill­sap, who’s very good, but doesn’t guar­an­tee the Nuggets will win 50 games next sea­son.

Can Mill­sap give Den­ver le­git­i­macy as a des­ti­na­tion for fu­ture free agents? Maybe. Know who could help Mill­sap spread the word? Per­haps the Nuggets should re-ex­am­ine hir­ing Chauncey Billups as a con­sul­tant, the way more than one NBA team has ben­e­fited from the grav­i­tas of Jerry West. Who bet­ter to sell Den­ver than Mr. Big Shot?

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