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Paul Millsap’s Nuggets signing brings him back to his roots

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DENVER (AP) Paul Millsap was welcomed back to his old neighborhood with a reception that included a drum line and cheering children.

It was a contrast to how the newest Denver Nuggets player left town years ago as a kid – his mom struggling to make ends meet.

That wasn’t lost on the four-time All-Star forward as he was introduced at a recreation center Thursday after signing a three-year deal worth $90 million. He spent nearly a dozen years in a suburb of Denver before returning to Louisiana for high school and college.

“My history had a lot to play into (signing with Denver), actually,” said Millsap , who was touched by the band that greeted him, along with the throng of children. “It felt like it was unfinished business here, being here years ago and leaving under the circumstances we left. To help this community out, this organization out, that played a big factor.”

Searching for a fresh start, Millsap’s mother moved the family to Denver when he was just a toddler. But it was a struggle. His mom, Bettye, said she used to make $12 last for two days’ worth of meals for her four sons.

In 1999, the Millsap family returned to Louisiana, where she had relatives to lend a hand.

“When I came to Denver in 1988, I was crying all the way in shame and had my head down,” Bettye Millsap said. “When I came back this time, I cried tears of joy and I could hold my head up.”

The 32-year-old Millsap gives the youthful Nuggets a proven veteran to pair with budding star Nikola Jokic. Millsap averaged a career-high 18.1 points last season with 7.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists.

“I’m looking for (Jokic) to make my job a little easier,” Millsap cracked. “And vice versa. I want to make his job easier. I want to help the younger guys around me become better players.”

For landing the highly coveted free agent, give an assist to Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall. Marshall’s sales pitch helped sway Millsap’s decision.

“Brandon was able to look Paul in the eyes and talk about what this city means to him, not just as a player but as a guy who lives here full time, and talk about what it’s like to win in Denver,” Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly said. “I certainly had goosebumps.”

It definitely got Millsap’s attention.

“The way (Marshall) explained the fans, the way he explained the city, it made me think, `I want to be part of it,”‘ Millsap said. “We’re looking, not to take the Denver Broncos fans – they’re the Broncos, let’s be honest – but for them to be with us, too. To take a ride with us, just like we were with them.”

Denver (40-42) improved by seven games this year but still missed the playoffs for a fourth straight season. Millsap’s presence helps the Nuggets remain in the playoff conversation even in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.

“I’m excited about that challenge. We don’t run from that,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “He’s going to help us tremendously.”

That’s partly because Millsap brings a defensive-minded mentality to the court. That and an unselfish style of play, which complements such young players as Jokic, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris.

“We feel in Nikola and Paul, we have the most talented, most unselfish, best playmaking front-court in the NBA,” Malone said.

As a kid in Denver, Millsap developed into quite a quarterback and thought his future might lie on the field, not the court.

He blossomed into a basketball player when he returned to Louisiana, where he became a standout at Louisiana Tech. Millsap was a second-round draft pick by Utah in 2006. He spent his first seven seasons with the Jazz, before signing with the Hawks in 2013.

After years of striking out on landing big-name free agents, the Nuggets finally got one – with roots to the community, too. It means a lot to him to return to his old neighborhood, to his former city.

“You don’t want to leave something on a bad note and never return to it,” Millsap said. “To return in the situation we’re in now as opposed to where we were, it’s unbelievable. Hopefully, I can get out and help this community. Because without them, where would I be?”

For more AP NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Pacers owner says team not for sale, will not be moved from Indianapolis

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There are more than a few NBA owners who are seeing the prices teams are being sold for — the Rockets just sold for a record $2.2 billion — and considering their options. Some other billionaires are looking for teams, several with the goal of packing up the franchise and moving it to their respected hometowns.

Those billionaires need not call Herb Simon. The Pacers owner said the team is not going anywhere, speaking to Gregg Doyel of the IndyStar.

“I want to leave my legacy: This team permanently in Indianapolis,” Simon told IndyStar Friday in an interview at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “That’s my No. 1 goal.”

Simon bought the Pacers in 1983 with his older brother, Melvin — who died in 2009 at age 82. He told IndyStar the team someday will be owned by his 53-year-old son, Steve. Behind the scenes, Steve Simon has been working closely with Pacers Sports and President Rick Fuson for five years — “He knows more about the dollars and cents than I do,” Herb said of his son — and met this week with several department heads.

“If anything happens to me, he’d be taking over,” Herb said, adding that father and son are on the same page: The Pacers are staying in Indianapolis.

Good. That is as it should be.

Indiana is part of America’s basketball heartland, and it should have a team. Pacers fans are smart and loyal, and the team has a long history going back to the ABA, running from Mel Daniels and George McGinnis through Reggie Miller and up to Myles Turner (hopefully he can be on the level of the rest of them someday). They play in the coolest basketball building in the league, one with the history of the sport wolven in.

Indy is the nation’s 27th largest television market, bigger than San Antonio, Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City and other successful NBA franchises. There is no reason the Pacers cannot thrive, so long as ownership is committed.

They are. Which is excellent news for Pacers’ fans.

Stan Van Gundy speaks out again in support of protesting athletes

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy used his team’s trip to Washington to again voice his support for athletes who kneel during the national anthem and his opposition to President Donald Trump.

Van Gundy was asked before Friday night’s game against the Wizards what he hoped would result from the president’s criticism of NFL players who refuse to stand for the anthem and the resulting national dialogue about political activism by professional athletes.

“I don’t know what good can come out of anything the president has said,” Van Gundy said. “As far as the athletes’ protest, I hope people would pay attention to the issues that caused the protest in the first place and realize that we have problem disproportionately with police brutality towards men of color.”

Van Gundy also criticized fans who have booed those athletes because they believe the gesture is disrespectful to the United States military.

“I thought that one of the things the military is fighting for is the American way of life and our values, which I think starts with freedom of speech,” Van Gundy said. “Our country was founded on protest. Otherwise, we would still be a colony of England. You would think people would appreciate non-violent protests that will be made.

“If you don’t stand for freedom of speech and you don’t think those players have the right to freedom of speech, what American values are you for?”

It was not the first time Van Gundy has spoken out on these issues. When Trump was elected last November, Van Gundy told the Detroit Free Press it was the first time he had been “ashamed” of his country.

Last month on the team’s media day, he read a prepared statement in support of athletes who use their visibility for political purposes, including protests during the anthem. The NBA has a policy requiring that players stand for the anthem.

The Pistons’ visit to Washington was their first since Jan. 21, one day after Trump’s inauguration.

More NBA basketball: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Cavaliers’ Derrick Rose out Saturday with sprained left ankle

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Cavaliers point guard Derrick Rose was held out of Saturday night’s game against the Orlando Magic because of a sprained left ankle.

Rose twisted his ankle after being fouled by Milwaukee’s Greg Monroe while driving to the basket in the fourth quarter on Friday. Monroe grabbed Rose by his neck and pulled him to the floor.

Rose landed awkwardly, but stayed in the game to shoot two free throws before going to the bench. The play was originally called a common foul but was upgraded to a flagrant 1 Saturday by the NBA.

Jose Calderon started at point guard Saturday for the Cavaliers, who have won their first two games.

Rose signed a one-year contract with Cleveland in July. He became the team’s starter when Kyrie Irving was traded to Boston. Rose was named the league’s MVP in 2011 while with the Chicago Bulls, but has battled injuries since.

 

Kyrie Irving, any regrets about using profanity toward fan? “Hell no.”

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Fans yelling obscenities at NBA players and trying to goad them into a response — always while camera phones are recording — has become a thing. DeMarcus Cousins will be paying $25,000 for responding to a fan cursing at him in Memphis.

Kyrie Irving is likely going to get fined for an incident Friday night after the Celtics knocked off the Sixers in Philadephia. It made the rounds on social media Friday night, with a fan yelling at Irving as he leaves the court “Kyrie, where’s LeBron?” and Irving responding with a crude phrase. Here is the exchange as Irving leaves the court (NOTE: The language is NSFW, if offended don’t watch the video).

Saturday Irving was asked about the incident, and he admitted he should have bit his tongue, but he has no regrets, as reported by A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston.

“Hell no,” Irving said (when asked if he had regrets). “Man enough to record it on video, that’s on him. I’m glad he got his ad name out there, and his five seconds of fame and it’s gone viral. That’s the social media platform we live on.

Irving added, “I take full responsibility for what I said. You move on.”

Irving also addressed the bigger issue, something Cousins discussed when talking about his fine. Via Chris Forsberg at ESPN.

“At the end of the day, we’re human. It’s in heat of the moment and frustrations arise, we were at halftime, we were down by 4, in an environment, a season-opener in Philly. Being with a young team like we have here and staying composed, handling that before we go in the locker room and addressing what we have to do in the locker room and going out and handling business and getting the W, that’s really the only thing that matters to me.

“It’s up to the league at this point. But, like I said, I’m going to take full responsibility for what I said. I don’t have any regrets for it.”

Irving is going to get fined. The league has issues with its players cursing at fans. Understandably.

That said, the league may need to step back on consider situations like this. If fans are taunting players, at what point should a player be able to respond to the fan? Should arena security (at the request of the officials, or maybe a player) intervene? Players should not be asked to bite their tongue no matter what is said, and even if a fan paid for a ticket it doesn’t give them the right to cross any line. As more fans seem to go after their 15 minutes of social media fame baiting players, the league may need to reconsider where it draws its lines.