Monta Ellis appears likely to exercise his early-termination option and get out of his $11MM contract with the Bucks for next season, and the GMs who spoke to Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal Times agree he's in line for a paycut. Ellis is the NBA's 11th leading scorer this year at 19.2 points per game and is headed for his third straight finish among the top five in steals per game, but those figures belie his inefficiency and inattentiveness in defense.
The former second-round pick of the Warriors has seen his field goal, three-point and free throw shooting percentages decline in each of the past two seasons. This year, his shooting line is .413/.279/.772, and part of the reason his scoring output is so high is because he's taken the fifth most field goal attempts in the league. He's jacking up 3.9 three-pointers a game this season, far too many for someone who makes less than 30% of them. Observers, including Rob Mahoney of SI.com, have pegged him as a defensive liability during his career in part for his habit of watching the ball when he should be looking at his man. Ellis' defensive win shares leaped to 3.3 this season, a drastic improvement on his previous career high of 1.9, though it's hard to accurately convey defense through statistics.
Woelfel hears Ellis would be "quite receptive" to joining the Grizzlies, though he points to their likely shortage of cap space as reason to doubt that Ellis winds up in Memphis. The Journal Times scribe mentions the Hawks, Suns, Mavs and Timberwolves as teams that figure to be in the market for two-guards in the offseason, noting the connection between Atlanta and Ellis at the trade deadline this year. The Hawks made Ellis their primary target in a proposed Josh Smith trade with the Bucks. I don't think Ellis will be that high on Atlanta GM Danny Ferry's list come the summer, since the Hawks will no doubt go after Dwight Howard and other maximum-salary level talents first.
Ferry and company may view him as a complementary piece and pursue Ellis after they sign another player for the max, a stance that other teams with cap room, like the Suns and Mavs, could take as well. The Mavs and Ellis' teammate Brandon Jennings reportedly have mutual interest, so if Jennings signs in Dallas and the Bucks fail to match, that would probably take the Mavs off the table for Ellis, unless the team is eager to duplicate a backcourt that's proven only mediocre in Milwaukee.
The Timberwolves could have plenty of cap space, too, if Andrei Kirilenko declines his $10.219MM player option and the team allows restricted free agent Nikola Pekovic to depart. If Kirilenko opts in and the team is confident Nikola Pekovic won't see an offer close to the max, the team would have room sign Ellis to fill its longstanding hole at shooting guard with a starting salary in the neighborhood of $10MM. That would be less than Ellis would make next year on his option, but a contract for three or four years could give the 27-year-old much more guaranteed cash in the long run.
Players are often attracted to the offer with the most guaranteed money, with plenty of reason given the fragility of an NBA career. Still, there's no indication that Ellis' value will significantly decline in the next 12 months, so he could probably collect his $11MM option, hit the market in 2014, and see the same offers he'd get this summer. The news that he's likely to turn down the option would seem to indicate Ellis and agent Jeffrey Fried think he can get more than $11MM for next season, though that's just my speculation. If any team makes that kind of offer, it would probably be a club with trouble attracting marquee talent but intent on making a splash with its cap space — perhaps the Suns, Bobcats or Pistons.
Ellis could improve his stock with a few memorable moments against the Heat in the first round of the playoffs. No one expects the Bucks to win, but if his contributions help the Bucks steal a game or two, it could increase his chances of a raise. Either way, I still think a long-term deal with a starting salary of around $10MM is his best bet, especially if he aspires to play for a contending team anytime soon.