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