"I'd like to live as a poor man with lots of money."
Utah Jazz forward Paul Millsap is living Picasso's dream.
Thanks to a four-year, $32 million contract he signed last summer, Millsap has lots of money.
Still, he continues to live a relatively simple, family-oriented life.
Millsap also continues to exhibit an old-school work ethic that helped transform him from a second-round draft pick into one of the NBA's best young players.
"It's a great story about doing your job, taking care of your business and just playing basketball," says coach Jerry Sloan.
Just three months ago, Millsap's future in Utah was in doubt.
A restricted free agent, he had signed a front-loaded offer sheet with Portland that immediately put $10.3 million in his pocket.
Already facing luxury tax issues, the Jazz had to decide if they could afford to match the Blazers' offer and keep Millsap.
"When Portland signed him ... I was a little worried," said teammate Deron Williams. "I didn't really know if we were going to match or not. That's what I was worried about."
Smiling, Williams added, "They didn't need him, though."
Apparently not as much as the Jazz thought they needed the rugged rebounder out of Louisiana Tech who has evolved into much more. He's a sparkplug, he's a guy of the bench and he's valued by his coach.
"He's a breath of fresh air," Sloan said. "He just goes out and does what he's supposed to do. He tries to do what we ask him to do and not make a big deal out of it."
The Jazz had to match Millsap's spendy deal with Portland if they wanted the services of the forward. On July 17, the Jazz swallowed hard, matched Portland's big-money offer sheet and secured Millsap's services through the 2012-13 season. Joe E. Brown, a famous actor and comedian from yesteryear, once said, "I don't like money, actually. But it quiets my nerves."
In today's NBA, long-term contracts worth millions of dollars can do the same thing. Players who were previously hungry become content because their incentive to work and improve is no longer part of the equation. Think John Amaechi, who scored in double digits on a regular basis with Orlando before signing a $10 million deal with Utah and scored 3.2 and 2.0 points a game in successive seasons.
"I guess it could be a problem," said Sloan. "... Sometimes, you see guys who already have it made and they don't seem to get any better. But Paul has always been willing the pay the price. He's got some toughness about him."
Millsap, whose scoring and rebounding averages have jumped in each of his first three seasons, promised himself he'd keep working.
"Absolutely," he said. "With me, I try to improve every day. I try to get better."
After re-signing with the Jazz, Millsap's first test came during offseason workouts. Under the direction of strength and conditioning coach Mark McKown, he prospered.
According to McKown, Millsap had "a great summer. To me, a measure is how does a guy address his weakest areas? In Paul's case, he's got a knee that bothers him a little bit.
"It's not fun to be aggressive and address that knee. But he did a great job with that and now he's moving better than he ever has in his career, in my opinion."
Millsap also worked with Dr. Marcus Elliott, a Harvard-trained physician who runs the P3 Performance Team for elite athletes in Santa Barbara, Calif.
He reduced Millsap's body-fat percentage and strengthened his lower body.
"That's one reason why his knee is not the issue it could be -- or would be with a lot of guys," McKown said. "It's why he's able to move quicker and be more explosive than ever before."
Millsap's performance in the Jazz's first three exhibition games supports the notion that he worked harder than ever after becoming a millionaire. He averages 15 points and four rebounds in 23 minutes. He shoots 64.3 percent from the floor.
"When you have the security, you tend to play better, in my opinion," Millsap said. "I feel more comfortable out there on the court. ... If something crazy happened and you get hurt, I feel a real sense of security. So I can just go out there and play basketball."
Williams sees a difference.
"He has money in the bank now and doesn't have to worry about a contract," he said. "He can just go and play with a clear head."
Millsap and the Jazz continue their preseason schedule Thursday night at EnergySolutions Arena against Portland.
He insists it is just another exhibition game. Not that such a fact will change how he plays.
"I'll come out and play," Millsap said. "Nothing different about it. They put the offer out there and I'm grateful for that. But that was business. Now I just have to play basketball."
Paul Millsap's statistics:
Thursday, 7 p.m.