Paul Millsap ducked under the doorway entering the waiting room outside of the Denver Nuggets’ practice facility where a small gathering of local media was awaiting him. As always, his big smile and oversized frame dwarfs everyone and everything else. This was especially true of the crammed waiting room that is about the size of a hallway. Dressed in bright yellow Nuggets apparel and donning a Christmas colored cast around his left arm, he fielded questions from the media for the first time since injuring his left wrist on November 19th.
“It’s tragic,” he tells the media before letting out a big smile. “I was just starting to feel good. And our team was starting to feel real good and you could tell things were coming together offensively and defensively.”
Millsap held court with the media for all of 10 minutes and the vibe throughout the conversation was that of a man who could only laugh as he comes to terms with the fact that he is in the midst of the most difficult challenge of his playing career.
“Nothing compares to this. Anytime you’re having surgery, I mean, it’s tough. I’ve had knee swelling. I’ve had tendinitis. The common things for an athlete but this is by far the worst and this is by far the toughest I’ve been through in my 12 year career.”
The 12-year veteran and 4-time all-star had surgery to repair a torn tendon in his wrist on November 26th and is expected to miss a large portion of the season as he waits for the injury to heal. Just how much time is still a point of contention. Nuggets head coach Michael Malone told reporters, “I don’t think he’s back until...best case scenario after the all-star break. And if it’s before that, great, but we’re not going to rush him back, obviously.”
Millsap is a bit more optimistic. When asked if there was a target date for him to return to the court he offered, “Yeah, for myself. No one agrees with it (laughs). I wont tell you (when) but...it’s soon. I’m hopeful.”
While his return to the court is still in question, his return to the bench last Tuesday in Detroit provided a boost for the Nuggets, according to Malone.
“Not many people are flying into downtown Detroit in the middle of a snowstorm. So for Paul Millsap to walk into that locker room was an uplifting moment. I know for myself, for his teammates, and I think it was really important for Paul as well.”
Millsap said that his motivation for joining the team toward the end of the road trip was all about providing that boost.
“Watching at home I could tell the spirit was down a little bit. I just wanted to come and help and show my support, hopefully give them a little boost. And actually I see a completely different basketball team right now. The energy level is high, guys are wanting to win and hopefully we can keep it up.”
Both Malone and Millsap spoke on the chemistry issues surrounding Millsap’s return and how this injury happened right as the team was beginning to hit their stride.
“At that stretch I felt like all of it was balancing out,” Millsap said, once again with a big smile. “This happened, then Joker went down. But we’re looking at it as a positive. Hoping and knowing that other guys are stepping up. Things like Trey Lyles is doing right now is unbelievable. His progress and how he stepped up and how he played has been tremendous. Will Barton, what he does...we need these guys.”
Malone shared a similar sentiment. “For me, even the bigger picture is, we are still getting to know Paul Millsap. He just got here. And he’s still getting to know us. So the more he’s around I think allows us to continue that kind of relationship building and getting to know one another. But he’s grabbing guys, he’s being vocal.”
Millsap seemed in good spirits throughout the press conference, even if you could tell this unexpected dose of adversity isn’t what he hoped for when signing with the Nuggets this summer. He almost never stopped smiling or shaking his head as he recounted all of the details of the injury, his rehab process, and the ways he’s trying to stay involved on the sidelines and in the locker room. And when asked how hard he thinks it will be to fit in with the team whenever he is cleared to play again, Millsap seemed confident.
“It should be simple. I mean, I said that before I had surgery too and it’s been tough, but I know what to expect now. Before I got injured it was trial and error. I’m very receptive and I go back and I watch film and see...watch those games and see how I fit in or how we all gel together and I got a good feel for what I need to do when I get back out there.”