The embattled shooting guard had been beaten down constantly in the years before joining the Mavericks. He was unceremoniously jettisoned from Golden State despite huge seasons; he floundered in a terrible Milwaukee system where he was asked to do too much with too little under a coach who is no longer in the NBA; he was criticized constantly by the media for his inefficiency, poor defense and disposition for taking bad shots, which -- while completely true -- seemed to leave out the elite skills he could bring to an NBA franchise.
After slogging through more than 500 games with those two franchises, with just a single winning season between the eight years of his career, his move to Dallas must be what an oasis feels like to a long wanderer. Finally, he has found somewhere worth sticking around.
Next offseason, Monta Ellis will face a player option worth $8.7 million. From a monetary perspective, this is an open-and-shut case: decline it and search for a better offer. Last season, Ellis' always-attack-the-rim production, a very neat complement to Dirk's rain-down-jump-shots-like-hellfire approach, was clearly worth more than the $8 million he earned.
At the beginning of this month, the NBA signed a new television deal worth nearly $3 billion with Turner Spots and ESPN. That money won't come into effect until 2016, but the salary cap will rise next offseason (2015) in anticipation of the market being washed with money. Last season, it was at $58.7 million, but projections having it rising to $90 million or perhaps even higher.
Many signature free agents are holding on until 2016, ready to cash in on the slew of owners handing out contracts like Mark Cuban hands out Daryl Morey one-liners. But unlike Ellis, those players who are waiting are making what they're worth. In two seasons, Ellis will be 30, in the last year of his prime, on a dangerous team, with players who complement his game better than any teammates he's had throughout his career. If money's his objective, he can't waste that season playing well under his true value.
"This is a business, but at the same time, I'm gonna look at everything with my family," Ellis said in that interview. "I'll sit down with my wife, my kids and we will go from there. I'm a Dallas Maverick for the next two years and hopefully throughout my career and we won't have to have those types of talks."
That doesn't mean he's picking up his option. There's a lot of time between now and then, a lot of time for things to happen or agents to talk with him or this or that or whatever. But Ellis sounds genuine. He realizes that good things don't last forever.
Dallas and Ellis probably have mutual interest, but once you hit the open market, anything can happen. Shawn Marion can attest. He became a free agent this summer as the last remaining player from the 2011 title team besides Dirk and wanted to be back.
"This is a great city, the fans here are amazing," he said at last season's exit interviews. "Even the media guys are awesome. It's a great environment, Mark and Donnie have built an amazing franchise here. It's like a family here."
But it just wasn't a fit for the two. That's basketball. Ask Vince Carter, who said he wanted to retire a Maverick. Tyson Chandler would have preferred to come back three years ago. Even O.J. Mayo wanted to stay in Dallas.
Every so often, articles come along that remind us that players aren't robots; that they have feelings and make human decisions. Even then, in an era where statistics are king, it's hard to separate someone from his win shares per 48 minutes or his guaranteed money next season long enough to remember numbers don't make all the decisions.
Ellis loves Dallas and the reception he's gotten from the fans. His kids are growing up here, and his wife is going to law school.
"My first two years at Golden State, the fans embraced me so much that it wanted me to give back to them," he said in Wednesday's interview. "And when I came here it was the same way."
What he leaves out is that in his latter Golden State years, the fans didn't embrace him, nor was he ever truly accepted in Milwaukee. NBA players need to feel wanted like me or you, and Ellis' journey up until he reached Dallas has mainly been one of unappreciative existence.
He has a good thing here in Dallas, and it's the first good thing he's had since his first couple of years in the league. He's not a robot, and playing 500 games with a single winning season can weary out any player. Now in Dallas, he has an owner who cares, a head coach who sets him up to succeed and a fanbase that appreciates him for what he does, not what he can't.
When you look at the money, it makes more sense for Monta to decline his option next season, and he still might. But his comments remind us that basketball is deeper than that. Ellis, like all NBA players, isn't a robot, but even more important than that, he's a human.