Tonight at EnergySolutions Arena, the Utah Jazz will host the Atlanta Jazz. Well, obviously that isn’t true but it might feel like it to some. The Atlanta Hawks (26-35) are in town and bring with them three former Jazz players. Most notably among the group is Paul Millsap. By his side will be three-point specialist Kyle Korver and starting small forward DeMarre Carroll.
Millsap is a rarity in the NBA – a second-round draft pick that recently made an All-Star team. Selected 47th overall by the Jazz in the 2006 NBA Draft, he’s a homegrown star. Utah fans never looked at him as having the biggest personality, but they knew he’d always return from the off-season better than he was heading into the break.
The year his big focus must have been on shooting the three-pointer. His three point percentage has seen an uptick since moving, but the three-percent increase is even more impressive when compounded with the fact that he’s on pace to shoot 150 more threes than he did in any season with the Jazz. In his usual humble fashion he credits the bump in threes to the style of play in Atlanta.
“The style of play is a lot different, the pace is a lot different,” Millsap said. ‘ I’m able to stretch out a lot more.”
While he is still improving as a player, this homecoming of sorts will be interesting for him. Jazz fans became accustomed to Millsap carrying the load on the road but will have to hope that isn’t the case tonight. Emotionally, he’s not sure how he’ll feel playing in EnergySolutions Arena with a different team across his chest.
“Just going to have to wait and see what happens during the game,” Millsap said “I feel like I’m a tough outer-guy but I’m sure it will get to me a little bit.”
While he is fighting back a kind of emotion he hasn’t known in the NBA, a lot of people will be curious as to how the fans respond to the big man’s return. When asked if the fan base will boo, he wasn’t sure.
“I don’t know, it could go either way. I’m on the opposing team now so it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if they booed against me,” Millsap said. Even if the boo birds do make an appearance, (I expect they will be few and far between) Millsap said the return is about more than hoops. “It goes beyond basketball here. It’s more a family… Either way I’m ok with it.”
Millsap battled alongside Carroll for the duration of Carroll’s stay in Utah. Carroll didn’t waste any time becoming a fan favorite for the Jazz.
He earned a lot of love from Utah sports fans by being active on Twitter and attending a few local high school basketball games. It looks like his twitter love hasn’t changed.
It was a Amazing feeling when I walked into Energy Solution today!!! Should be even more Amazing when I see the Jazz Fans tonight! #blessed
— DeMarre Carroll (@DeMarreCarroll1) March 10, 2014
More importantly, he cultivated that stardom with on the court tenacity. His hard work and hustle earned him the nickname “Junkyard Dog” from TV play-by-play man Craig Bolerjack and it stuck with the fans. Coming back to Utah left both Carroll and Millsap a little lost.
“I almost mistakenly walked straight to the main locker room,” Millsap said.
“I didn’t really know where the visiting team locker room was,” Carroll said.
The rejuvenation the Jazz provided for Carroll in his sixth season appears to have been a springboard for his career. He has been a regular starter for the Hawks this season and has managed to perform better in just about every measurable way.
“I give all the credit really to the Utah Jazz organization. Kevin O’Connor was a big part of that,” Carroll said. “I will forever love this organization.”
Last but not least to return is Kover. Every Jazz fan remembers Kyle Korver even if he’s a little further removed from wearing a Jazz jersey than Millsap and Carroll. He spent some of his sixth season, all of his seventh and all of his eighth season with the Jazz (2007-2010).
After his stint with Utah, Korver spent time in Chicago with Carlos Boozer before ending up in Atlanta. Since joining the Hawks he’s had one incredible streak, 127 consecutive games with a made three-pointer. The streak ended recently but that still means he owns that record by 38 games. He said it was cool and he is proud of the accomplishment but will spend more time this summer looking back on it.
While the organization plans to honor Millsap in his return, even Korver wants to see how his teammate handles it.
“Paul is going to play it off real cool and act like he’s ok but there’s going to be a lot of emotions for sure,” Korver said.
Korver went on to say that the fans will be very kind to Millsap. Whether they are or not, Korver said of Millsap exactly what every Jazz would expect.
“He’s going to do his job and play his game.”
Tip Off, as usual, is at 7:00pm MST.