Monta Ellis opted out of the final year of his contract last season, one that would have paid him $11 million in 2013-14. One can only assume he did so believing he would earn as much or more annually on the open market. And why not? After all, Monta Ellis has averaged at least 19 points a season every year since 2006-07 (when he was a part of the team in Golden State I'd prefer to forget ever existed), and during that stretched eclipsed the 20 point per game mark four times. Plus, as you may know, Monta Ellis has it a-...has a lot going for him.
Well, as it turned out, Monta did not receive the kind of offers he was likely hoping for. He ended up signing a three year deal worth approximately $26 million, well below the yearly salary he would have earned had he stayed in Milwaukee. And in the world of online sports media -- occasionally a bit glib and quick to judgement -- this deal was not hailed as one of tremendous value, but as a foolish, short-sighted signing sure to backfire. In the interest of fairness, I must admit I fell mostly into that category, as well.
When it came time to play actual basketball, Monta Ellis did quite well. Averaging 19 points a game once again, Ellis provided the Dallas Mavericks with their most prolific sidekick to Dirk in a half decade, and as the year went on Monta became the team's primary offensive initiator, especially in running the pick and roll. Ellis notably led the NBA in drives to the basket (and points on drives), giving Dallas a dimension I don't think I can recall them having in all my years watching the franchise, and certainly not recently. What I can recall all those years is watching the Jason Kidds and DeShawn Stevensons of the world dribble around the perimeter and praying for someone to go to the hoop.
Monta had his share of memorable regular season performances. They include a 4th quarter takeover against Minnesota in mid-March where he scored the team's final 10 points of regulation and helped them overcome a huge lead (before eventually losing in overtime), a 37 point outburst in a dramatic win against Phoenix that clinched a playoff birth for Dallas, and of course the dramatic buzzer-beater in Portland to defeat what was at the time one of the hottest teams in basketball.
Then, after a down game one against the Spurs in the playoffs, Ellis turned in a few epic post-season performances as well, with five straight 20 plus point games, culminating in the game six come-from-behind win that saw Monta once again go off in the final period. As Dirk seemed to labor at times on tired legs worn down from a long season, it was Ellis who did his best to step up and carry the offensive load for a team that nearly shocked the NBA and knocked off the team with an NBA-best 62 wins.
If Monta's teammates were unhappy with his play, they certainly didn't express it. Dirk raved about Monta's speed, as well as his underrated passing ability. Rick Carlisle also heaped praise on 28 year old guard who had spent most of his career toiling in relative obscurity on poor teams. The perception seemed to be that Monta Ellis had been adopted into the Maverick culture. Maybe they were just impressed by his bartending skills.
2013-14 Season Grade: B
Contract: signed for $18 million through 2015-16
Whether the team wants to admit it or not, I believe the marriage of Monta Ellis and the Dallas Mavericks was one of desperation. Dallas had whiffed on all the big fish, from Deron Williams to Dwight Howard, and they were even too late to ink Andre Iguodala. Meanwhile, Monta Ellis did not get the offers he wanted (prompting him to dismiss his agent), and was apparently down to a choice between the Dallas Mavericks and the recently renamed Charlotte Bobcats. I don't think either party saw themselves with the other.
However, accident or not, Monta is in Dallas, and if you take the organization at their word, they are glad it turned out the way it did. Ellis can score, and that's something Mark Cuban and company have long desired to help take pressure off the brilliant but aging Dirk Nowitzki. Helping matters was the fact that Ellis adapted well to the up-tempo pace and movement-based style of the team. He played with greater patience and control than in his younger days, creating for others rather than simply relying on himself to make every big shot. The way Ellis performed in the playoffs may have just cemented his stay in Dallas for at least the next couple of seasons and possibly more, after a brief but trying run of employing hired guns on one-year contracts.
Should Monta Ellis be a centerpiece longterm? Well, at the risk of upsetting the crowd, I would express concern over this strategy.
In a vacuum, Ellis is a fine enough player. He's exciting, he's athletic, and while I try not to put too much stock in intangible things like "moxie", I think Ellis is the type of player who thrives in big moments, against big opponents. Even if the styles are a little different, I see some of the Jason Terry "irrational confidence syndrome" in Ellis, which is not only important to success in professional sports, but probably essential. Terry, of course, was a huge part not one but two Mavericks teams that reached the NBA finals.
My worry about Monta prior to the start of the season remains un-assuaged, though. Ellis possesses an unusual skillset, one that is not necessarily easily accommodated. This at least partly explains his lack of success in Milwaukee or Golden State. Ellis is the classic scoring guard trapped in a point guard's body, with passing skill above average for a two but less than ideal for the one. His short arms and small frame make him a poor match defensively against wings, but he is regularly beaten by quicker, smaller guards as well. Though Ellis shot well from the corner three, he was abysmal anywhere else behind the three point line, and is far better creating his own offense than playing off-ball.
So, in other words, the ideal backcourt mate for Monta Ellis is point-ish guard with size to cross-match and defend either guard spot, enough ballhandling chops so that you aren't asking Ellis to initiate everything, and a good enough three-point stroke to help space the floor for Ellis to drive. Does that player even exist? Maybe if you de-age Jason Kidd and bring him out of retirement. Otherwise, I'm not sure. Jose Calderon hits two out of three but fails horribly in the third category.
Moving Monta Ellis to full-time point guard is worth entertaining, but based on what we've read that isn't Carlisle's plan. With all the fanfare surrounding Ellis now, I suspect neither is moving him to the bench a la Jason Terry (who was a bench player in name only, and played starter minutes). So, it is up to the front office to find the right players to compliment Monta.
The Monta Ellis game winner in Portland.
Monta crosses over a girl on Inside Stuff.
Rick Carlisle talks about Monta making "quantum leaps" as a player, which makes me think of 1) Monta warping into other people's bodies and solving their problems, and 2) the fact that "quantum leap" in common usage is incorrect and the term technically describes a very, very, very small change, rather than something monumental.