Following earlier reports that the Bucks were willing to trade just about anyone on their roster, Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe reported that Ellis was likely to forgo the $11 million he is owed next season and explore free agency.
Fortunately, the volume shooting guard may not have to wait that long to escape Wisconsin's frosty grounds.
According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, the Bucks and Atlanta Hawks are engaged in negotiations that would bring Josh Smith to Milwaukee and send Ellis to Georgia.
On Bucks/Josh Smith talk: Hawks' interest believed to start w/Monta Ellis, since Monta could play next to Jeff Teague, whom Hawks still like— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) February 19, 2013
Though the thinking in Atlanta is that Ellis could be a formidable option next to Jeff Teague, he has also become more of a primary target because of his willingness to decline his player option. Doing so increases the likelihood that his contract be considered an expiring one.
Of course, teams other than the Hawks could come into play. Ellis is the antithesis of efficiency, but he can still score. Factions would be interested in his 18.4 points per game alone.
Which teams could those be, and where would Ellis fit best?
With only days to go until the NBA trade deadline, finding a suitable package for Ellis won't be easy, but it is possible.
*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports and 82games.com unless otherwise noted. All trades have also been put through ESPN's Trade Machine to ensure financial propriety.
Milwaukee Bucks Get: PG Luke Ridnour and PF and Derrick Williams
Minnesota Timberwolves Get: Monta Ellis
Ricky Rubio could aid in the evolution of Ellis' game (finally).
We hardly undervalue how incisive a passer Rubio is, yet we tend to underestimate his ability to direct the placement of his teammates. He methodically spaces the floor with his dribble penetration/hesitation and would open up lanes Ellis never even knew existed. He would actively have to hate scoring to pass up such pathways to the rim.
Granted, Ellis' salary is concerning for a penny-pinching Timberwolves team. Should the guard feel like leaving this summer, that might not be so much of an issue, except then Minny would have dealt Williams for nothing.
If the Timberwolves are going to acquire Ellis, they have to be prepared to commit to him, and I don't think they should rule it out.
Ellis isn't going to fix their three-point shooting, but he scores excessively. If Rubio can help improve his efficiency from the field, he will bolster Minnesota's 21st-ranked offense considerably.
With Minnesota exploring the departures of Williams and Ridnour anyway, it's not as if the Timberwolves would be decimating their roster. Plus, shipping out Williams could be the motivation they need to re-sign Nikola Pekovic this summer.
Williams gives the Bucks a formidable, albeit developing frontcourt of the future. A three-man rotation of him, Larry Sanders and John Henson is one almost anyone could get on board with. The fact that Williams can spend some time at the 3 if needed only increases the trio's potential.
Down Ellis, Ridnour's playmaking becomes a necessity for Milwaukee as well. He can't man the 2 as much as Ellis, but would be a valuable distributor off the bench. He also provides some insurance should Brandon Jennings leave the team as a restricted free agent.
This proposed deal is not without risk, but it has the potential to pay dividends for both sides.
Cleveland Cavaliers Get: G Monta Ellis
Milwaukee Bucks Get: SG Daniel Gibson, G Dion Waiters and future first-round pick
It's not out of the question that Milwaukee's search to strike a deal at the deadline could bring them to Cleveland.
Dion Waiters has proved to be a more inefficient version of Ellis, but as a rookie, there's still room for him to grow. Gibson also provides the Bucks with the three-point threat they're known to be looking for should they opt to move one of their current guards.
Truthfully, this deal is more about the future and potentially shedding payroll. While Ellis may opt out of his contract at season's end, the idea of paying him $11 million next season if he doesn't can't sit well with Milwaukee.
In Waiters, the Bucks at least get a young prospect who they can regroup this whole combo-guard-on-combo-guard scheme around.
For the Cavaliers, this is more of a temporary experiment that could turn permanent.
Ellis has not willingly deferred to the likes of Brandon Jennings or Stephen Curry, but might be more open to developing his off-ball movement playing opposite an All-Star like Kyrie Irving.
Let's not forget that Cleveland is already attempting to make a pairing of this magnitude work with Irving and Waiters. The latter, however, has actually proved to be more of a wild-card shooter than Ellis. Whenever your shooting percentage (39.6) is lower than Ellis' (40.1), your shot selection needs some work.
While Ellis adds payroll, the Cavaliers don't have to re-sign him if he opts for free agency this summer. That said, even if he stays under contract, he'll come off the books in time for Cleveland to pursue LeBron James, among others, in 2014.
The Cavs still seem to be high on Waiters, but Ellis presents just as interesting a complement to Irving. And with an abundance of first-round picks in this year's draft, they could attempt to pry him away on the cheap.
A long shot?
Absolutely, but intriguing parameters to ponder if Milwaukee becomes even more motivated to move him.
Milwaukee Bucks Get: SG Eric Gordon
New Orleans Hornets Get: SF Mike Dunleavy, Jr. and G Monta Ellis
Any way you slice it, moving on from the 24-year-old Gordon won't be easy. He's a promising scorer, able distributor and a willing defender. His knee problems are unsettling for someone his age, though, as is the $29-plus million he is owed over the next two seasons, and the $15.5 million player option for a third.
Dealing him in favor of Dunleavy in Ellis would free New Orleans from his contract and allot it even more cash to spend over the next year or two.
Dunleavy would provide some added depth at the small forward position as someone who can knock down a shot from anywhere on the floor. He comes extremely cheap and his contract is set to expire at season's end.
Ellis is a more established version of Austin Rivers, yes, but his scoring (however erratic) would help fill the void left by Gordon. He's also capable of running the point when called upon.
Should such an experiment fail for the Hornets, they can find solace in knowing Ellis will be a free agent this summer or next. Either way, he costs them less than Gordon and allows them to do some heavy shopping in the near future. It's a bonus that he's game-tested and has proven to be more durable.
Milwaukee, of course, would have to be willing to assume responsibility for Gordon's knee and contract. That said, as a combo guard who has shown he can produce at a high level when healthy, he could be an upgrade over Ellis in terms of what the Bucks are looking to do.
His presence does not mean they need to part ways with Brandon Jennings either. Gordon attacks the rim far more than Ellis, which makes for a more compatible dyad.
This is one of those things where the stars would have to align (literally), but if both teams become increasingly open to moving either centerpiece, it's one that could be talked about.
Atlanta Hawks Get: SG Monta Ellis and PF John Henson
Milwaukee Bucks Get: SG Anthony Morrow and F Josh Smith
How badly does Milwaukee want Smith?
I'm not quite thrilled at the idea of the Bucks acquiring him because he could opt to leave for busier and greener pastures this summer. Ellis may not be held in high regard, but Henson certainly is, and Milwaukee would be taking a Paul Bunyan-sized risk shipping him out for a potential rental.
That said, Smith increases the potency of an already elite rebounding team. The Bucks rank seventh in boards grabbed a night (43.5), and Smith gives them two lethal shot blockers, the other being Larry Sanders.
Speaking of Sanders, he arguably makes Henson expendable if (and only if) Milwaukee is confident it can re-sign Smith. Neither Ersan Ilyasova nor Smith are strangers to assuming stretch forward-type roles. Undersized lineups may not be Jim Boylan's prerogative, but again, with two players who can protect the rim like Smith and Sanders, it's an avenue worth exploring.
Milwaukee might try to get some kind of shooter in this deal as well. Morrow isn't a favorite in Atlanta, and given the Bucks' desire to acquire sharpshooter J.J. Redick from the Orlando Magic, the potential is there for him to be a throw-in.
When looking at the Hawks, I'm slightly surprised by their interest in Ellis. There's no doubt he can score, but his defensive ineptitude is obvious.
Im told Monte Ellis's name is coming up in discussions btwn Milwaukee & ATL in potential Josh Smith deal.— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) February 19, 2013
Partnering him with Jeff Teague seems intriguing on the surface, but I'm sure the Bucks said the same thing about him and Brandon Jennings. And I bet the Golden State Warriors thought the same of him and Stephen Curry.
When Ellis slashes off the ball, he cuts through defenses like a freshly sharpened blade, but if he's going to do that consistently, he needs to play alongside a point guard who garners more respect than Teague. Egos are going to come into play.
I will say this: If Ellis indeed opts for free agency this summer, this deal becomes worth it for Henson alone. The Hawks had been looking for an extra big, among other things, in return. If Smith was going to walk anyway, an affordable and promising Henson is an acceptable consolation prize.
But are the Bucks prepared to gamble and pay the price?
If talks keep progressing between these two parties, we may soon find out.
Chicago Bulls Get: G Monta Ellis (Milwaukee) and PF Drew Gooden (Milwaukee)
Milwaukee Bucks Get: C Andrea Bargnani (Toronto), SF Linas Kleiza (Toronto) and PG Luke Ridnour (Minnesota)
Minnesota Timberwolves Get: SG Rip Hamilton (Chicago)
Toronto Raptors Get: PF Carlos Boozer (Chicago)
Get your wetsuits on, because we're diving right in.
The Bulls are looking to get under the luxury tax, and this deal would do just that.
Chicago has talked to Toronto about shipping Boozer out in exchange for Bargnani, and while talks have stalled, the Raptors may have a change of heart.
Why? Because this move rids Toronto of both Bargs and Kleiza. It doesn't trim their payroll, but it leaves it at identical value to what it owes over the next two years.
After shipping Ed Davis off to the Memphis Grizzlies, the Raptors are in dire need of someone who can rebound and score in the post like Boozer.
The $32.1 million he's owed between next season and the one after isn't an attractive figure, but he wouldn't cost the Raptors any more payroll through next year. Toronto could then use his expiring deal as trade bait heading into the 2014-15 campaign.
For Milwaukee, Samuel Dalembert is expected to explore free agency and Bargnani's size gives them a body to plug at the 5 when needed. He's hardly a deft rebounder or defender, but he could stretch the floor with his three-point shooting and realistically play alongside the budding Larry Sanders.
Ridnour also gives Milwaukee some flexibility at point guard. He replaces Ellis' playmaking and provides a cheap starting option at point guard should the Bucks opt to not retain Brandon Jennings over the offseason.
Kleiza holds next to no value, but his contract isn't massive and comes off the books next season. It is a necessary evil if Milwaukee wishes to move Gooden.
Minnesota is known to be shopping Ridnour and, as the worst three-point shooting team in the NBA, would welcome Hamilton's 34.1 percent clip from deep. The Timberwolves can also part ways with him at season's end by declining his team option.
The Bulls not be thrilled about taking on Gooden, but he could provide some minutes behind Taj Gibson, who would be thrust into the starting lineup.
Ellis would be a risky acquisition, but he presents the Bulls with plenty of options. He could help them run the point for the rest of the season if Derrick Rose doesn't return or could very well (finally) fall into line next to another high-quality player should Rose come back.
I'm curious to see how he would respond to playing with a former MVP, someone who dominates the ball every possession and forces him to improve the mechanics behind his spot-up jumper.
Worst-case scenario, Ellis bombs and the Bulls have the opportunity to part ways with him over the summer, or they stick it out for just one more year, as opposed to two with Boozer.
Complex? Yes, but the parameters of such an accord are also mutually beneficial.