Monta Ellis Leaves the Womb

21 09 2010

I am something of an apologist for Monta Ellis. I love his supremely athletic and reckless offensive game so much that I usually stand up for him in the case of all criticism, no matter if it relates to his perceived ballhoggitude, love of mopeds, or penchant for alienating teammates before they even suit up for the Warriors. But I am committed. Some people get dogs to see if they’re ready for children; I decided to become an unconditional fan of Monta.

He hasn’t always made it easy. On a terrible Warriors team last season, Monta’s +/- numbers were among the worst on the roster, and he lost his status as Face of the Franchise with the emergence of the positively adorable Stephen Curry. There were rumors Ellis would be dealt this summer. Heading into the offseason, his career was quite obviously at a crossroads. That’s only more the case now that Joe Lacob and Peter Guber have orchestrated the sale of the team and the end of the Chris Cohan era.

Ellis wasn’t traded, but he obviously realized that something needed to change. So, as reported by Sam Amick in several articles for FanHouse last week, Monta has become more mature. A few important bits:

“It starts with me, so I wanted to come back a month before training camp and get real close with my new teammates, to have that bond and make this whole thing as one and try to win,” Ellis told FanHouse in a 30-minute, sit-down interview this week. “It’s a new beginning. That’s how I look at it. I’ve wiped everything else away from the past. We have a new logo, a new team. We’ll just move forward, and it starts with me.” […]

Ellis ignores trade rumors unless they come from his agent (he hasn’t heard any lately) and is employing the safest mental approach there is when it comes to worrying how his bosses view him: “I’m paid to play basketball,” he says. He has grown to be appreciative of Curry instead of apprehensive, a development that even he admits was too slow to unfold. He points to a rock-solid personal life as the reason for his newfound maturity.

The moral of the story is that Monta is now an adult and committed to making it work with Curry and the rest of the Warriors this season. Whether or not he’s doing so because of a need to impress the new bosses is unimportant — no matter the cause, the effect is the same, and it means that he’s shifting from a rising star into a dependable veteran. The road to that destination might be bumpy, but he’s at least trying to change his personality for the better.

Unfortunately, the realities of basketball have already doomed Monta’s career in Oakland. While he got flack last fall for suggesting that he and Curry couldn’t play together, it’s the truth, especially once Don Nelson is deposed as head coach. The Curry/Ellis tandem only works if you forget about defense entirely; no amount of extra commitment or improved maturity will change that. It’s a weird backcourt, the kind that can be offensively explosive but give up even more at the other end. Lacob has already said he prefers a tough, defensive-oriented team, which can’t happen if this backcourt sticks together.

So one has to go, and it’s sure as hell not going to be the golden child Curry. Monta is a weird player — a small scorer who’s inconsistent as a sharer — but he’s paid like a top dog. At this point in his career, it should be relatively clear that he can’t succeed as the primary scorer on a good team. He’s the asset you trade when you’re trying to create a new identity for the franchise, because he’s valuable but not essential.

Ellis still deserves credit for improving his attitude and coming into camp with a commitment to succeed. It just make more sense to view his new approach as an audition for new employers rather than a show of support for the new regime. He’s going to leave town no matter how impressive he looks this season. Better to prove to other teams that he can fit into any system and do whatever’s required of him. It’s a business, after all, and adults realize that.

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The Warriors Are Going to Be Hilarious for a Few Months

15 09 2010

The Golden State Warriors are quite obviously entering a transitional period. Joe Lacob and Peter Guber will officially take over the team as owners some time in October, when the NBA’s Board of Governors will presumably ratify the Chris Cohan’s sale of the franchise, and Lacob has already made it clear that he prefers to field a tough, defensive-minded team rather than the shambling offensive jubilee of the Don Nelson years. Guber, whose Mandalay Entertainment has produced such fine films as Into the Blue, presumably prefers a team of hot women clad in tiny blue bikinis or with their arms bitten off by sharks (whoops, SPOILER ALERT).

Lacob’s vision for the Warriors has already begun to be realized — just look at their recent two-year deal for Louis Amundson. The former Sun was a great energy player off the bench for last year’s Western Conference finalists, but as noted by Tim Kawakami, he’s not Nelson’s type of player. In other words, he can’t shoot at all, and Nellie can typically only stand to play one of those guys at a time. With David Lee and Andris Biedrins already on the roster, it’s likely that Amundson won’t get many opportunities to play.

Of course, Nelson probably won’t be with the team much longer. Lacob and Guber are almost certain to go in another direction, potentially before the end of the season. They don’t owe Nelson anything other than money, and he’s a symbol of the previous regime.

The problem here is that if Lacob and Guber don’t take over until October, that doesn’t give them much time before the beginning of the regular season to find a new replacement. While they almost certainly want to get rid of Nelson as soon as possible, doing it so close to the beginning of the new campaign — and possibly even during training camp — would create a series of unwelcome distractions and problems just as everyone was trying to forge an identity for the 2010-11 squad.

So expect Nelson to run the Warriors for at least a few months. In that time period, expect a lot of comedy, because the NBA’s foremost mad scientist has been given a surprisingly standard roster with which to concoct his lineup experiments.

Nelson loves shooters, and shooters are typically guards. But the Warriors are very thin at guard, with only Jannero Pargo (and the 6-6 Reggie Williams, if you want to classify him as such) standing in as sharpshooting backups to Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry. At wing, things are much thinner: prospective starter Dorell Wright took only two threes per game (shooting well at 38.9%) in about 20 minutes of action last season, while likely backup Rodney Carney can’t shoot at all.

So, unless Nelson wants to get completely goofy and play Wright or Williams at the four, the Warriors are almost guaranteed to play two non-shooters on the bulk of their possessions next season. This situation will surely frustrate Nelson to no end; his probable last coaching job won’t allow him to go out with a bang.

There are two ways this could go. On one hand, Nelson will lose whatever’s left of his mind and trot out the weirdest lineups ever seen on an NBA court. I’m talking full-on craziness unseen since the days before the Minneapolis Lakers even decided what positions were. Or maybe Nelson will go in the other direction, realize he has no hope of innovation, and openly weep during games. Fortunately, I hear assistant Keith Smart has a great shoulder for crying on.

I’ll be watching with interest. Here’s hoping local broadcasts train a camera on Nelson at all times, because there’s no telling how he might act before Lacob and Guber pull his plug.