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Jazz brass preaching versatility

Coaches want players to expand their games

BOISE — The Jazz want all their players to be as versatile as possible, and capable of playing at least one position besides their primary one.

"Any player that can expand their game ... that's an advantage," coach Jerry Sloan said.

Combined with the reality that Utah intends to create more post-up opportunities this season for unhappy starting small forward Andrei Kirilenko, that means a minor adjustment in how the club plans to use backup power forward Paul Millsap this season.

Millsap indicated before breaking training camp Saturday in Boise — an eight-session week's worth of practices, seven of which were completely closed to media members — that he'd been working out at the 3 spot (small forward) as well as power forward.

When he and Kirilenko have been on the floor together, Millsap suggested, it's the Russian forward who's been working down low on offense.

"They've got me running some of the 3, interchanging," Millsap said.

"They're gonna try to post him (Kirilenko) up a lot, so we're gonna interchange a lot," he added. "The offense they've got going — it seems like it's gonna be pretty good."

Millsap, though, did concede that he's nowhere near as comfortable yet at small forward as he was while playing power forward during his rookie season.

"I'm just getting by right now," he said. "I've got to continue to learn the different sets, the second and third options. Once I get that down pat, I'll be all right."

Sloan, however, put the brakes on the suggestion that the Jazz are trying to turn Millsap into something he's not.

"I don't know that we will play him a great deal at 3, because we've got two other people (Kirilenko and veteran backup Matt Harpring) there," he said. "Maybe some."

It's not, in other words, as if the Jazz are asking Millsap to make a complete position change.

"That's not what I would call a 3, because he's gonna be guarded by a 4 (power forward) if Andrei's in the game," Sloan said. "And I don't visualize him (Millsap) guarding a lot of 3s out on the floor at this point, because I think his strength is rebounding. And I think that takes him away from rebounding, the more he plays the 3."

Millsap, meanwhile, may be the biggest beneficiary of starting power forward Carlos Boozer's prolonged absence from camp.

Boozer missed the entire opening week of camp tending to an ill son at home in Miami, and Jazz officials said Saturday they weren't sure whether or not he'd report when preseason practice resumes this morning in Salt Lake City.

Until Boozer is back, then, Millsap gets plenty of reps in practice.

An offseason spent improving his conditioning makes tackling the task that much easier.

The Jazz asked Millsap to tone up during the summer, and he did just that, bouncing from Utah to Nevada to California to his native Louisiana to do everything from weight training to boxing to working with a shooting coach.

"I took it upon myself to get physically fit this summer," the 2006 second-round draft choice said. "I feel better. I look better than I did. Toned up a lot. I feel stronger than I was.

"I just wanted to be in the best shape possible. I really didn't do much but that," added Millsap, who stands 6-foot-8 and still carries the same 258 pounds he did last season. "I haven't played basketball the whole summer."

The result: a healthier-feeling self, and nothing but kudos from his oft stingy-with-the-praise coach.

"All over," Sloan said when asked how Millsap's summer work has manifested itself most. "His shooting, his quickness. Running the floor."

Last season, Sloan said, "he got in foul trouble — obviously some of it because he was a rookie, but some of it because he got a little bit tired at times."

Sloan does not anticipate that happening nearly as much this season, and as a result the Jazz's intent is to implement plenty of Millsap in 2007-08 — no matter where he may be on the floor.

"We plan," Sloan said, "on playing him as much as we can get him in the game."


E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com