The weight on Paul Millsap's shoulders will soon become much heavier.
The lingering but unlikely possibility of a multiyear contract extension with the Jazz. An old-school, winner-take-all position battle with Derrick Favors, as the duo compete during training camp for the right to be named Utah's starting power forward once the 2012-13 regular season begins. A looming entryway into free agency, which could allow Millsap to command the largest payday of his career next July.
For now, though, Millsap's mind is as clear as ever. He's healthy, well-rested and highly motivated. A brief personal vacation followed the chaos of the 2011-12 lockout campaign. Millsap then spent the remainder of his offseason doing what he always does: working. Pairing up with personal trainer Johnnie Bryant a former University of Utah guard recently added to the Jazz's training staff, Millsap said one of the toughest players in the NBA continued to fine-tune his game, addressing everything from ballhandling and off-the-dribble pull-up moves to his long-range shot.
Millsap produced an all-around career year last season, averaging 16.6 points and a career-high 8.8 rebounds, while ranking fourth in the league in steals (1.8). With camp just one week away and the most important season of his basketball life about to kick in, an undersized athlete who's continually proved doubters wrong is ready for a new fight.
"I know what I can do. I know my capabilities. Everybody else [does] too," said Millsap, during a fundraising event Monday for the Ronald McDonald House Charities.
Millsap's fully aware this could be his final year with the Jazz, an organization that drafted him No. 47 overall in 2006 and has been the only team he's ever played for. With Favors on the verge of a breakthrough and Utah stacked in the frontcourt, Al Jefferson and Millsap could soon become casualties due to the promise of youth. But after an attempt to negotiate an extension last summer the Jazz offered a three-year maximum deal worth about $25 million big money and an unpredictable future temporarily have been pushed to the back of Millsap's mind. Even the thought of testing the free market is on pause.
"It'll sink in when it happens," Millsap, 27, said. "But right now, I'm still with the Utah Jazz. I'm still going to go out there and play basketball for them and give it everything I got."
What is Millsap immediately concerned with? Ensuring Utah rises higher this season than a humbling first-round playoff defeat. And making sure the deepest team he's ever been a part of bolstered by the additions of Mo Williams, Randy Foye and Marvin Williams doesn't just look good on paper.
"We got lucky," Millsap said. "We got a ton of great talent, especially with the veteran guys we've got coming in."
He added: "This year's going to be great for the NBA, for basketball, period. There's a lot of things happening. For me, I've just got to … keep my ego down a little bit. I learned over the past not to get too excited. Just go into the season ready to play and you've got to see what happens. It's going to be a good year for us."
Paul Millsap file
Position • Forward
Year • 6
Vitals • 6-foot-8, 258 pounds
2011-12 stats • 16.6 pts, 8.8 reb, 2.3 ast, 1.8 stl
Career • 12.1 pts, 7 reb, 1.6 ast, 1.1 stl
Draft • No. 47 overall in 2006
College • Louisiana Tech
Born • Monroe, La.