Monta Ellis entered the league with great expectations for himself. As a senior in high school, Ellis had college coaches as well as NBA scouts regularly attending his games. In 2005, former Mississippi State assistant coach Phil Cunningham heavily recruited Ellis to play for the university. Cunningham laid out the facts for the guard. He told Ellis the expected salaries of each first-round pick and explained the difference between what Chris Paul, a projected top pick in the NBA draft, would make compared to someone drafted toward the end of the first round.
“If you come to Mississippi State for one year, you’re going to be the best player in the SEC. You’ll be MVP of the SEC.” Cunningham told Ellis, according to Jonathan Abrams of Grantland in a full-length article that’s worth a reread. “You’ll probably be first-team All-American. You think if you come here for one year, you can’t be as good as Chris Paul and be a top pick in the draft next year and make this type of money as opposed to going in right now and [then] you’re locked into this lower spot?”
Ellis then looked back at Cunningham, and firmly told the coach that he was already better than Paul.
Since he was drafted 40th overall by the Warriors in the 2006 draft, the 6’3″ guard has played with that level of confidence. In 2010, he called himself the second best player in the league, deferring only to Kobe Bryant. Yet when his six year, $66MM contract expired after the 2012/13 season, Ellis’ stock was at a low point.
The Mavs signed Ellis to a three year, $25MM contract and during his initial season in Dallas, he was arguably the team’s most valuable player. The Mavs made the playoffs and pushed the Spurs to the brink before falling in the first round. At the time, it appeared that Dallas had found a bargain in its contract with Ellis, and it seemed like Ellis had found a long-term home.
A year later, his future isn’t as clear. Ellis has always been a liability on defense and the Mavs felt the need to upgrade the defense in their backcourt, which led to their ill-advised midseason trade for Rajon Rondo. Rondo’s presence on the team left Ellis to play off the ball more often, which is a role that he isn’t best suited for. Ellis had a dreadful second half of the season. He only made 16.9% of his three-point attempts after the All-Star break, but his numbers improved during the postseason when Rondo was putatively sidelined because of a back injury, one that was reportedly a ruse to cover a mutual parting of ways. Ellis isn’t the best spot-up shooter, but he shot a competent 36.8% on left corner threes and 35.0% from the right, according to NBA.com, better marks than players like Goran Dragic and Joe Johnson, to name a few. This advocates that Ellis can fit onto a team that doesn’t plan on making him a primary ball handler, something that could broaden his list of potential suitors.
Ellis only made 26.7% of his three-point shots from above the key. This, coupled with his playmaking ability, suggests that allowing him to be the primary ball handler is the best strategy for the team that employs him. Ellis chose not to exercise his player option worth $8.72MM with the Mavs in search of a more lucrative deal. Dallas reportedly has no intention of giving Ellis the raise he seeks and the team was apparently poised to try to trade the 29-year-old if he had opted in. It appears likely that he will be calling another city home during the 2015/16 season.
Ellis’ body of work probably warrants an eight-figure salary, as Chuck Myron of Hoops Rumors wrote in the Mavs’ offseason outlook. The shooting guard is reportedly eyeing the Hawks, while the Heat and Pacers are interested in the Mississippi native. The Hawks have slightly less than $39.3MM in commitments against a projected $67.1MM cap, but the team is expected to try to retain its free agents, which would most likely bring them over the cap. The Heat have roughly $43MM in commitments for next season. The team has a lucrative offer earmarked for Dragic and also has interest in retaining Luol Deng, who has a player option worth $10.152MM. Miami also has to think about fitting in a potential raise for Dwyane Wade. The Heat presumably views signing Ellis as a backup plan if Wade decides to leave South Beach. Even if Wade departs, with the Heat’s current cap situation, the team would be hard-pressed to shoehorn in a potential $10MM annual salary for Ellis.
Indiana seems like a more logical destination for the shooting guard. The Pacers had slightly more than $36MM in guaranteed salary for 2015/16 as the offseason dawned, but player options for David West and Roy Hibbert loomed as potential complications. Hibbert apparently is opting into the last year of his deal, worth over $15.5MM. West is reportedly opting out of his contract and is reportedly favoring the Knicks as his next team. If the power forward departs, the team could have some $10MM in cap space to play with.
From a basketball standpoint, Indiana offers a good situation for the Relativity Sports client. The Pacers are one of more stable franchises in the NBA and they employ one of the better coaches in the league. George Hill would seemingly be a perfect fit next to Ellis in the backcourt. Hill is a plus defender and he has shown he can be effective without dominating the ball. Ellis could solidify the team’s guard rotation and give the franchise the additional playmaker it’s lacked since Lance Stephenson left town last offseason.
Ellis has connections to a few other franchises. Magic coach Scott Skiles coached Ellis in Milwaukee and Magic assistant coach Mario Elie coached him when he played in Golden State. Ellis played under Nuggets coach Michael Malone while he a Warrior and he has a great deal of respect for his former assistant coach. Both teams have the cap flexibility to accommodate a contract for Ellis. Still, Denver is rebuilding, so an Ellis signing wouldn’t fit in with its projected blueprint. The Magic have a young core and GM Rob Hennigan has hit the veteran market in the past to supplement the roster. However, Ellis’ outside shooting and defensive deficiencies would make him an awkward fit in Orlando.
Ellis hasn’t quite lived up to the superstar status that he projected for himself when he entered the league. Yet, he has the ability to be a major contributor on a real contender. It’s just a matter of finding the correct role and the right supporting cast that will allow him to flourish.
What do you think Ellis will make on his next deal, and where do you think he’ll end up? Let us know in the comments.