Woody Paige: Signing Paul Millsap puts Nuggets back in play in the NBA

The Nuggets have become players.

At last.

Now, we’re waiting for the other sneaker to drop.

Free agent point guard George Hill? Restricted free agent and very sharp shooter Bojan Bogdanovic? Sign-and-trade deal with the Hawks involving Paul Millsap and one of the Nuggets’ power forwards? A Nuggets’ trade with another team in the Eastern Conference?

Those are all possibilities.

The fireworks show has just begun.

Nevertheless, the Nuggets finally are in position to be back in the playoffs — and possibly to compete to be in the top five or six in the most difficult Western Conference.

The signing of Millsap to a three-year, $90 million contract on Sunday night may sound bizarre to some silly people, especially to media types in Denver who had moaned that the 32-year-old power forward was not the right man for the job.

Of course, those same media types scoffed last week when I wrote for thedenverchannel.com that the Nuggets were in a must-do situation for Millsap now are praising this action to Mile High heaven.

If the Nuggets are intending to be serious contenders in the Wild West, their next decision will be to sign George "King Of The" Hill to a three-year agreement for about $60 million.

Add the 30-year-old point guard, late of the Jazz (and the Pacers previously) to the mix of Nikola Jokic, Millsap, Jamal Murray et al., and the Nuggets will no longer have the lowest attendance in the NBA, and will win 50 games, the norm here before the Kroenkes & Kompany unceremoniously dumped George Karl.

Astronaut Neil Armstrong’s first walk on the moon was "one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."

The signing of Millsap was one significant step for the Nuggets, one mammoth move for Denver.

Millsap has just become the highest-paid player annually in the city’s pro sports history, surpassing Von Miller and Carlos Gonzalez and all the others who have come through Colorado.

But he’s worth it. This was a win-win for the Nuggets. Not only did they get the four-time league All-Star at a reasonable rate (considering the salaries in the NBA), but the Nuggets actually are committed to him for only two seasons. The third year is a team option. There had been belief that the Nuggets would have to offer Millsap a max contract of about $152 million for 40 seasons, but the market was diminished when the Suns backed off; the Timberwolves went in another direction (Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson); the Hawks decided to head into the tank for next season, and the Kings were not attractive (to practically anyone playing basketball).

So, Millsap would be able to get max money, although $90 million should be enough for a guy if he can play well for two years, and get the third season, or $60 mil for a player who will be approaching 35 years old in 2019-2020.

Here’s what the Nuggets got:

*Millsap was one of the top five free agents in the off season, and he certainly is among the top five NBA power forwards.

*In the Nuggets’ up-tempo system, Millsap, a good scorer all the way out to three-point range, will average 20 points a game, and he will pull down double-digit rebounds about half the time — maybe even by halftime some nights.

*This is a second-team all-defensive player who can shut down some of the best forwards, and his defense should be contagious to other Nuggets, who seem to think getting in somebody’s grill could cause a disease. The youngsters can learn from Millsap.

*Millsap immediately is the leader in the locker room and on the floor. The Nuggets have been devoid of leadership in both locations. Who was the leader last year? Nobody. Danilo Gallinari? He can’t stay on the floor, and was inconsistent when he was. Kenneth Faried is not a leader. Jokic is too young. Jameer Nelson was the leader, but he’s a backup guard to youngsters who are trying to find their own games.

*And the acquisition of Millsap ended the drought. The Nuggets had tried to sign or trade for star players for years, and threw up nothing but air balls. Kevin Love, Chris Paul, Paul George, Dwayne Wade, Boogie Cousins — these were all misses.

*And others who can ball might just want to join Millsap on an emerging team. Hill, for example. Bogdanovic, for another.

Glad the Nuggets paid attention to my advice last week.

Preeminent basketball expert Brian Windhorst, one of my ESPN colleagues, said the Nuggets "connected on a home run . . . As a versatile power forward who can play inside and out, he’s (Millsap is) near-perfect alongside center Nikola Jokic."

The Nuggets are back in play in the NBA.   

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