Two summers ago, Monta Ellis and the Dallas Mavericks were a match made in heaven.
After multiple failed attempts in getting the eight-figure deal he wanted, Ellis took a couple of million less to sign with Dallas, giving the Mavericks that much-needed second scoring threat to compliment Dirk Nowitzki. Two summers later, the honeymoon may be over.
It's been about 15 years since someone not named Dirk Nowitzki was the Mavericks' leading scorer. That streak broke this season, when Ellis led Dallas in scoring at 18.9 points per game on 44.5 percent shooting.
From November through mid-December, Monta carried the Mavericks by himself. With Dirk's abysmal shooting struggles and Chandler Parsons unable to find his groove offensively, Ellis became Dallas' go-to guy. After a November that saw Ellis play well, but no quality wins for Dallas, the Mavs entered December with a trip to Chicago against the revamped Bulls.
In the most exciting Mavs game of the season, Ellis scored a game-high 38 points and hit this ridiculous 3-pointer from the top of the key with under a minute to go to give Dallas a 132-129 double overtime win.
That was Ellis' signature moment of the season up until that point ... then the next night happened, on the road, against the Milwaukee Bucks. Dirk was kept out of that game due to rest on the second night of a back-to-back. With the game tied at 105 on the final possession, Monta did this.
Back-to-back game-winning shots by Monta had the Mavericks sitting pretty at 15-5 by early December. They weren't world beaters, but the Mavs were confident enough in knowing that if Dirk couldn't go, or had an off night, Mr. Have It All wouldn't be far behind. December proved to be an all-star type of month for Monta, averaging 22 points per game and scoring over 20 points seven times. Then it went downhill after the trade for Rajon Rondo. In six of the next 10 games after Rondo's Mavs debut (Ellis scored 38 that night), Monta shot less than 50 percent six of the next 10 games.
Monta still averaged 20 points per game and shot 46 percent in January, but Dallas (9-7) struggled to win games. Then right before the All-Star break, Ellis injured his hip on Feb. 9 in a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. One of the most prideful players in the league, he didn't miss any games, but that hip was clearly affecting him no matter how much he denied it. He shot 38.7 percent in the first seven games after the All-Star break, and took 98 shots within that span.
The last two months of the regular season ended up being an inconsistent wave of production for Ellis. He shot 41 percent throughout March. He was a no-show in games that Dallas needed, like a 2-of-14 performance on March 6 against Golden State. He also showed up in big-time moments, like the 38 points he scored at home against San Antonio on March 24, giving the Mavericks some ounce of hope.
Then there were moments where he just sat on the baseline, looking defeated and done with life.
April 10, 2015. The day that Monta Ellis looked done with the Mavericks. If we want to get technical about it, you can trace it back to March 22, when Ellis shot 4-of-22 and single-handedly cost Dallas a game against the Phoenix Suns. ESPN Dallas' Tim MacMahon noted the next day that Ellis' moodiness was a major problem in the Mavericks' locker room. The photo above, a screenshot that Tim Cato captured right after Raymond Felton's eventual game-winning layup in Denver, shows Monta sitting on the baseline, away from his teammates, looking miserable.
That could've meant a plethora of things, and the real answer may never be found. But Dallas fans immediately saw this to think Monta was the problem, not Rondo or his poor play down the stretch. The thought of Monta declining his player option this summer was becoming a real possibility.
But then, the playoffs happened. Rondo quit on the team in Game 2, and the Monta from earlier in the season rose from the grave, shooting 54.1 percent in the final three games of Dallas' first-round series with the Rockets, averaging 30 points per game while scoring 30-plus points twice. This was the Monta of December, with no hip problems and being the one ball-dominant guard on the floor. Once Rondo left, it was the Monta that was expected all year. He and J.J. Barea played fantastic together in the backcourt, and the offense was clicking at a rate that resembled the pre-Rondo numbers.
Which puts the Mavericks in an interesting position this summer.
Monta has a player option for $8.72 million this summer, according to Basketball Reference. The consensus opinion is that Ellis will decline the option and look for that eight-figure salary again from another suitor. But there are two possibilities that I could see happening if Monta does pick up the option: either Dallas keeps him and puts a shooting point guard by his side in the back court, or the Mavericks trade him.
Trading Ellis has been an idea I've thrown around in my head after the season ended, thinking Dallas could get some good value for him from a team that could use a scorer. Teams like Charlotte, Chicago if they don't match an offer from Jimmy Butler, Denver (in a swap for Ty Lawson because why the hell not?) or maybe Minnesota come to mind. There's a chance teams look at Monta's last three games of the playoffs and think his stock is high once again.
Ellis' situation is also tricky from the standpoint that Dallas wants as much money as possible to throw at, more than likely, DeAndre Jordan. Monta declining the option would free up nearly $9 million in cap room, which would be more than enough to bring back Al-Farouq Aminu, a couple of other players on minimum deals, along with the First-Team All Defender from Lob City.
But if Ellis stays, it won't be with Rondo in the back court, that much is certain, and that might be a good thing. Ellis is one player, along with Tyson Chandler, to watch this summer to get a better grasp for what Dallas wants to do in free agency.