HOME­COM­ING

Nuggets new­comer Paul Millsap is fa­mil­iar with Den­ver, hav­ing lived 12 years here be­fore re­turn­ing to Louisiana with his fam­ily

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Matt L. Stephens John Leyba, The Den­ver Post

While most sim­i­lar events are held in a ster­ile room at the Pepsi Cen­ter, the wel­come party for Millsap, a 6-foot-8, 246pound power for­ward and four-time all­star, was de­signed with a mes­sage.

“We like to think it’s a home­com­ing for Paul,” said Nuggets gen­eral man­ager Ar­turas Kar­niso­vas.

The three-year, $90 mil­lion con­tract Millsap signed Thurs­day be­fore meet­ing with the me­dia at the Mont­bello Recre­ation Cen­ter — only 2 miles from his child­hood neigh­bor­hood — makes him the high­est-paid ath­lete in the his­tory of Colorado pro­fes­sional sports. He also is the big­gest free agent the Nuggets have ever signed.

At age 32 and com­ing off a sea­son in which he av­er­aged a ca­reer-best 18.1 points per game in ad­di­tion to 7.7 re­bounds, Millsap is in the prime of his ca­reer and bol­sters a young team that touts one of the NBA’s best cen­ters, Nikola Jo­kic. Millsap’s pres­ence is ex­pected to make the Nuggets in­stant play­off con­tenders (Den­ver hasn’t reached the post­sea­son since the 2012-13 sea­son), but did he re­al­ize the sig­nif­i­cance of what he al­ready means to the fran­chise?

“Not un­til I had just seen a march­ing band, no,” he said, draw­ing a laugh from

the crowd.

Millsap’s roots in Colorado run deep. Not long after he was born in Louisiana, his mother, Bet­tye Millsap, moved the fam­ily to the Mont­bello neigh­bor­hood of Den­ver, where Paul would spend 12 years of his life.

He was a foot­ball star at Martin Luther King Mid­dle School and his brother was a Mont­bello War­rior, but shortly be­fore high school, with Bet­tye hav­ing to work two jobs and un­able to keep an eye on her kids dur­ing the day, the fam­ily moved back to Louisiana.

Kar­niso­vas and Nuggets pres­i­dent Tim Con­nelly said they pur­sued Millsap for years and there were a num­ber of fac­tors that led to him sign­ing with Den­ver — in­clud­ing the con­stant courtship and po­ten­tial in­stan­ta­neous growth of a young ros­ter — but the city it­self ul­ti­mately be­came the sell­ing point.

“(My his­tory here) had a lot to play into it, hon­estly. I just felt like there was un­fin­ished busi­ness here, leav­ing un­der the cir­cum­stances that we left,” Millsap said.

“Com­ing back to this com­mu­nity and help this com­mu­nity out and help­ing this or­ga­ni­za­tion out, I mean that played a big fac­tor.”

The Nuggets will be­come a de­fen­sive night­mare for op­po­nents, NBA TV an­a­lyst Stu Jack­son said. Millsap has av­er­aged one blocked shot and 1.3 steals per game in his 11-year ca­reer and joins the 6-10 Jo­kic in the paint.

Jo­kic av­er­aged 0.7 blocks and 0.9 steals dur­ing his sec­ond year in the NBA last sea­son.

Of­fen­sively, Jo­kic will take at­ten­tion off Millsap — and vice versa — al­low­ing him to con­tinue to be one of the league’s most dom­i­nant big men, some­thing Millsap said he was look­ing for­ward to the most about play­ing for the Nuggets.

With the Millsap deal of­fi­cially com­plete, at­ten­tion turns to where the Nuggets go next. They have six power for­wards — in­clud­ing this year’s first-round draft pick, Tyler Ly­don.

Any move­ment they make likely will be to help thin that po­si­tion, but Kar­niso­vas sug­gested Wed­nes­day the Nuggets would be con­tent head­ing into the 201718 sea­son with their ac­tive sta­ble of for­wards should they not find a trade part­ner that would cre­ate a per­fect fit.

Whether they make a move be­fore the sea­son be­gins is yet to be seen, but what is clear is the Nuggets can at­tract su­per­star tal­ent to Den­ver, and the or­ga­ni­za­tion hopes the ad­di­tion of Millsap will show fu­ture free agents why it’s worth play­ing at al­ti­tude.

“This isn’t just a sign for a splashy sign. (Millsap has) so much sub­stance to him as a per­son and as a player,” Con­nelly said. “I think our coach­ing staff and our play­ers did such a good job re-estab­lish­ing a pos­i­tive iden­tity, league-wide. … (Sign­ing Millsap) cer­tainly helps, but the process of mak­ing the league a bit more aware of how spe­cial this city is and what we’re do­ing as a team be­gan in earnest last year with a lot of our suc­cess.

“You have to be con­stantly ag­gres­sive and op­ti­mistic. Some of the best things that have hap­pened were the deals we were try­ing to get that never got ac­com­plished. This is not be­cause he’s here or be­cause he said yes; I think a lot of the day-to-day me­dia guys know this is a guy we’ve chased ag­gres­sively for four years. It’s not that we got the yes, we got the right yes.”

NBA all-star for­ward Paul Millsap high-fives chil­dren Thurs­day at the Mont­bello Recre­ation Cen­ter, only 2 miles from his neigh­bor­hood as a youth.

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