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.