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

Highlights from Japan Game: Hachimura and Wiseman put on show, plus Suga and Curry

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The NBA preseason is officially here — and it started in Japan. The Golden State Warriors faced the Washington Wizards in front of a sold-out crowd at the Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo. In case you didn’t wake up at 6 am Eastern to watch a meaningless preseason NBA game (and if you did, we’re worried about you), here are a few highlights and notes from the night.

• The Wizards were there because they have the biggest Japanese star in the NBA, Rui Hachimura, and he was given a chance to shine. The crowd erupted when he did anything.

• The leading scorer on the night was the Warriors James Wiseman with 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting, plus nine boards.

• Dunk of the game goes to Kyle Kuzma.

Stephen Curry was doing Stephen Curry things.

• Stephen Curry also met Suga of BTS and gave him some game-worn kicks. This will win Twitter for the day.

• Oh, by the way, the Warriors won 96-87. As for the level of basketball, it looked like the first preseason game after a flight halfway around the world. The teams combined to shoot 11-of-47 in the first quarter (23.4%) and both were under 40% for the game.

Klay Thompson is sitting out both Warriors games in Japan.

TRIVIA TIME: Can you name the other two players currently in the NBA born in Japan?

Cam Thomas (Yokosuka) and Yuta Watanabe (Yokohama), both of the Brooklyn Nets (Watanabe is on a training camp deal and is not expected to make the roster). Both were raised much of their lives and went to high school and college in the United States.

Thunder rookie Holmgren trying to focus on learning NBA during rehab

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Thunder rookie Chet Holmgren is experiencing the rehab process for the first time.

The No. 2 pick in the 2022 NBA draft suffered a right foot injury during a pro-am game in August while defending as LeBron James drove to the basket on a fast break. He had surgery, and the Thunder declared him out for the season.

“I’ve never had a serious injury in my life, so I didn’t really know, I had nothing to base it off of and compare to,” Holmgren said Thursday. “So when it happened, I had to get it looked at and see how serious it was. I didn’t imagine anything like this.”

Holmgren, a versatile 7-footer who had great moments during summer league, is dealing with being sidelined as the Thunder start training camp this week.

“Definitely something that I really had to put my mind to and spend some time to think on,” he said. “And kind of come to some conclusions on things and really settle my mind so I could kind of stop focusing on what happened and focus in on what’s going to happen, what I’ve got to do to get where I need to be.”

Even without practicing, he has already left an impression on his teammates.

“He’s a great guy,” guard Lu Dort said. “I can already feel a connection with me and the rest of the team. He’s a pretty vocal guy, too. He talks a lot, and that’s good for the team.”

Holmgren said his only workout limitation is that he can’t put weight on the injured foot. So, that forces him to focus on other aspects of the game. Coach Mark Daigneault said Holmgren has been working hard on film study.

“It just comes down to putting my mental energy towards it, learning how to really be a professional in areas off the court,” Holmgren said. “I’ve dedicated so much time to really hustling at my craft on the court. Now, this event is making me step back and kind of rework how how I do things. And one of those ways is to become professional with watching film and speaking with coaches, trying to learn, watching what’s happening and really being engaged, in trying to get better with different avenues.”

Holmgren has spoken with Joel Embiid about his injury. Embiid, the reigning NBA scoring champion, was the No. 3 pick in 2014 before missing his first two seasons with foot issues.

Holmgren hopes he can recover as well as Embiid.

“What I’m trying to do right now is just kind of soak up all the knowledge of how things are done around here, how they’re going to be done going forward,” Holmgren said. “So when I’m ready to get get back in there, I can just kind of seamlessly plug myself in.”

Holmgren is expected to be ready for the start of next season. He said he’s trying to keep his thoughts positive.

“It all comes down to keeping a level head because there’s so many ups and downs,” he said. “Unfortunately, this is a down. But I’ve got to keep my head level and focus on getting better. And no matter what the circumstances are, that’s the goal.”

Daigneault believes Holmgren’s mindset will net positive results.

“We’d like him to be out here,” Daigneault said. “But since he’s not, we’re certainly going to make a lot of investments, and the thing that makes me the most optimistic about that is the approach that he takes.”

Houston acquires 2025 2nd-round pick in eight-player trade with Thunder

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ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski described this as a “cap-centric deal” since it helped the Thunder get around $10 million below the luxury tax, while Houston added a 2nd-round pick by taking on $1 million in cap space.

The Rockets acquired Derrick Favors, Ty Jerome, Moe Harkless, Theo Maledon and a protected 2025 2nd-round pick from the Hawks and sent David Nwaba, Sterling Brown, Trey Burke and Marquese Chriss to Oklahoma City.

The 2nd-rounder from Atlanta is protected 31-40, and it will become the second best 2026 2nd-round pick between the Mavericks, Thunder, and 76ers if it doesn’t convey in 2025.

A tweet from Jackson Gatlin of Locked On Rockets indicates that Houston will also receive $6.3 million in cash from the Thunder.

Previous reports indicated that Derrick Favors was unlikely to remain with the Thunder this season, while Ty Jerome wasn’t participating in training camp as his representatives worked with the team to find an exit strategy for him. Kelly Iko of The Athletic reported that Houston plans to waive Jerome. Harkless was traded for the third time this summer. He was dealt from Sacramento to Atlanta in July as part of the Kevin Huerter deal, and then was shipped to OKC for Vit Krejci earlier this week. Hopefully he’ll be able to settle in with Houston this season.

As he enters his seventh season, this will be the sixth team that Nwaba has suited up for. The journeyman has had a few solid seasons, including averaging 9.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.0 steals for Houston during the 2020-21 season. Among the players in the deal, he’s the most likely candidate to carve out a role on his new team next season.

Brown, Burke, and Chriss were already traded once this summer as part of the deal that said Christian Wood to Dallas. Now, they’ll be depth pieces in Oklahoma City if the team decides to keep them around.

Daily Thunder’s beat writer Brandon Rahbar pointed out that the trade wouldn’t have been possible without the Disabled Player Exception that the Thunder received because of Chet Holmgren’s injury.

Spurs’ Josh Primo out for preseason with left knee MCL sprain

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Josh Primo is going to get his chance this season. The Spurs are rebuilding — even Gregg Popovich says not to bet on them to win the title — and Primo, entering his second season (and still 19), is one of the most promising young players on their roster, someone with the chance to be part of whatever will be built in San Antonio the future. He just needs more experience.

Unfortunately, he’s going to start this season half a step behind after missing most of training camp due to a sprained left MCL, the team announced Thursday. He is expected to return in time for the season opener, according to the team.

Promo, the No. 12 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, got into 50 games for the Spurs last season and averaged 5.8 points a game but wasn’t very efficient with his shot yet. He also spent a lot of time in the G-League (but then had to miss this past Summer League due to COVID).

With Dejounte Murray now in Atlanta, there is not only a starting spot open but also opportunities to run the offense — Primo is going to get a chance to show what he can do with that. It’s just not going to be for a little while due to his knee sprain.