Utah Jazz: Millsap says staying in Utah best for career
Forward acknowledges he fits in better, could start.
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Even if he did sign a four-year, $32 million offer sheet with Portland, Paul Millsap never managed to picture himself playing for the Trail Blazers, even acknowledging the obvious Saturday: "Everything about Utah is a better situation for me and this ball club."

"I'm right where I want to be, back in Utah," Millsap added in a gathering at the team's practice facility. "I love it here and I can't wait to get back on the court."

A day after matching Portland's offer to Millsap, the Jazz's investment in one power forward only led to continued questions about their commitment to another in Carlos Boozer and the probability of a trade in the coming weeks.

Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor declined to comment when asked if he now considered Millsap the team's starter. For his part, Millsap made clear that he views starting as the next step in his career.

"I would love to start," Millsap said. "My role for the past couple years has been coming off the bench. I've been playing behind a great player and watching the things he [does] when he gets out there and starts, things he did to prepare himself to start.

"It helped me out a lot. Starting would be a great thing for me. Hopefully, it'll work out to that situation."

For all the expectation that Boozer will be traded before training camp, O'Connor said: "If we can improve our team, we'll do that. If we can't improve our team, we're not going to do that. Players have a contract. We expect them to fulfill the contract."

He returned to that theme when asked about a Tuesday radio interview in which Boozer said he had been told the Jazz were going in a "different direction" and that he expected to be traded "relatively soon."

"We expect any player that's under contract -- and especially one that decided to opt-in -- to come and compete," O'Connor said.

The Jazz, however, appear unlikely to smooth things over with Boozer the way they did with Andrei Kirilenko after the Russian forward demanded a trade in 2007, particularly after re-signing Millsap.

Chicago and Miami have emerged as the frontrunners for Boozer, while the Jazz would like to add a shot-blocker or shooter. The Jazz also are expected trim their payroll from the current $82 million, $12 million over the luxury-tax threshold.

Millsap, meanwhile, was asked about the offer sheet that transformed his life. He made an NBA-minimum $797,581 last season as a former second-round draft pick, but will receive a $10.3 million upfront payment from his new deal.

"It feels great, but my job's not done now," Millsap said. "It's just beginning. The money's there. Now it's time for me to get out there and showcase my talents."

If anything, Millsap said having financial security "settles me down," adding that his attitude, personality and work ethic would stay the same.

Having watched Millsap and his brothers grow up, his agent and uncle, DeAngelo Simmons, said: "To see him reach this point is an all-time high on my list."

How much interest Portland had in signing Millsap -- as opposed to forcing the Jazz to match -- remains in question. Millsap revealed that he never talked with Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard or coach Nate McMillan as part of the process.

Had he headed to Portland, Millsap could have expected to come off the bench behind LaMarcus Aldridge. "I knew all along what was going to happen," Millsap said, "and I think [the Jazz] had in their mind what was going to happen, so it happened."

Millsap's rise the last three years has been nothing short of remarkable. He was selected after Kosta Perovic, P.J. Tucker and Denham Brown in the 2006 draft. Other recent No. 47 picks have included Bracey Wright, Pape Sow and Dominic McGuire.

"[It's] pride that you have a guy come in and work as hard as he did to earn it," O'Connor said. "And I think that's something that's a credit to him."

"I always pictured that the sky's the limit for me," Millsap added. "It's going to continue to be the limit for me. It just depends on how hard I get out there and work. I'm going to continue to work hard and try to be the best person and best player I can possibly be."

rsiler@sltrib.com