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For the Jazz, the question ranks right up there with the biggies: "Who are we?" and "Why are we here?" and "Where are we going?" and "Why did Jerry Sloan duck on down a back alley on us in the middle of the season last year?"

It's not altogether unrelated.

What do we do with Paul Millsap?

That's the question of the moment, maybe the question of the season for Kevin O'Connor.

If there is a heart and soul to the Jazz, it's 'Sap. In his five seasons as a pro, the power forward has worked his tail off for the club that took him with the 47th pick in 2006. In three of those years, Millsap played in all 82 regular-season games, and in the other two, he played in 76. He's done pretty much whatever the Jazz have asked.

That's significant for a team that has seen mainstays through much of that same time often get hurt or get butt-hurt over long stretches because they weren't durable, weren't willing to play hurt, or weren't willing to play through hurt feelings. Two of those former pillars are now gone.

Millsap plays on.

Over the past three seasons, he's averaged 13.5, 11.6, and 17.3 points, as well as 8.6, 6.8, and 7.6 rebounds. The last time the Jazz made the postseason, in 2009-10, Millsap averaged 18 points and 8.8 boards in those 10 games, hitting better than 57 percent of his shots.

Remember that third playoff game against Denver, when the Jazz were down by double digits early, and Millsap went on a 9-for-9 shooting rampage, lifting the Jazz to a large advantage, winding up with a 22-point and 19-rebound game?

Carmelo Anthony afterward said: "Millsap got going, and that was big for them."

After that turning point, they went on to eliminate the Nuggets in the first round.

The little big man knows how to do his business and do it efficiently, almost quietly.

He was not so quiet, though, on another memorable night, at Miami last season, when he scored 11 points in 28 seconds, including a pop at the buzzer that forced a game in which the Jazz trailed by a mile into overtime, where they won it. Millsap finished with 46 points, handing the Heat their first home loss.

The Jazz's foresight in drafting the unwanted player out of Louisiana Tech has been rewarded, then. Although it hasn't always been painless. When Portland offered Millsap that toxic contract a couple of seasons ago and the Jazz signed him for $32 million, a lot of it upfront, it stung.

As Greg Miller said at the time: "We're going to protect what's ours. We're going to fight."

So, they did.

Now, they have to decide if keeping Millsap is the right move. They are stacked at the power forward position. Al Jefferson, despite playing the 5 last season, is a better 4. And Derrick Favors, the Jazz's young reward for unloading Deron Williams, is a 4. Favors needs time to develop, and developing doesn't come from nailing his shorts to the bench.

Playing Jefferson, who has a heavy contract, at center and Millsap at power forward didn't always work so well for the Jazz a year ago, particularly at the defensive end. Jefferson didn't play much D and because of that, Millsap, as a diminutive 4, was more exposed.

One answer is for Millsap to get minutes at small forward, and that is a water-cooler bomb. Nobody seems to be able to agree whether Millsap effectively can make that transition on a consistent basis.

If he could, it would enable the Jazz to build a much bigger front line — with Jefferson at the 5, Favors at the 4, and Millsap at the 3. If Mehmet Okur can find himself again, that gives the Jazz more flexibility, and a real threat from deep.

It's not perfect, but it accomplishes much of what the Jazz want — getting their best players on the court together, bolstering their rebounding and defense, and giving Favors experience. Some, though, say Favors will not come along quickly. As for Enes Kanter, that will be a bigger project.

They've indicated no real disposition to do so, but the Jazz could trade Millsap. The backend of his contract is attractive, and suitors would be many. But, no matter what came in return, losing the 26-year-old forward just as he's bound to climb into his prime, just as he's on the brink of taking leadership of this team, would blow a hole in the Jazz.

What do they do?

What's the meaning of life?

Why is water wet?

Knowing the Jazz, they likely won't do anything.

And the question will answer itself. That's not all bad, even if it is a bit redundant down low.

Asked the other day about his extended offseason conditioning, Millsap acknowledged that he has been working like a maniac, adding stamina and muscle, since he can't add height and arm length. It's what he does. It's who he is. It's what he's come to be.

"Yeah, I've been working out," he said. "You've got to put your best foot forward in the weight room. Then you come out and see what you can do."

A few years back, Millsap sat at his locker after a home loss to the Boston Celtics in which he scored 32 points and hauled 10 boards. There was no hint of a career-type performance, no bounce in his eyes, no jubilation, no satisfaction.

All he could think about was defeat.

Sloan said that night: "Paul Millsap works hard. He's come around because of his effort. He's improved because he's worked at it. He shows up and plays."

That answers the question — keep him — as well as anything.

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Gordon Monson Show" weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 AM The Zone.

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