Unfortunately for Ellis, the Bucks have some time to decide how much to pay him if he opts out of his contract at season's end. What's more, Milwaukee will enjoy the benefit of viewing the totality of his contributions when they decide his value.
And that'll be a complicated calculus.
Backing up a bit, ESPN's Marc Stein reports that Ellis is likely to test the free-agent market this summer. Stein wrote:
The whispers in Milwaukee have been in circulation for some time that Ellis would opt out of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent at season's end, largely because of the number of teams projected to have salary-cap space this summer and the resultant ability to more than recoup that $11 million in a longer-term deal.
So with the likelihood that Ellis will be available this summer established, the process of figuring out whether or not (and how much) the Bucks should pay him should probably start with a rundown of what the shooting guard can and can't do.
Obviously, Ellis can score.
No player in the league this season has managed to put up a 25-point quarter, which Ellis did against the Magic on March 17. Typically, though, the seven-year veteran's points don't come efficiently.
On the season, Ellis is shooting 42 percent from the field and 25 percent from three-point range. He did put up a 13-of-22 effort against the Magic, but that kind of economical output is much more the exception than the rule.
In addition to the ability to score in bunches, Ellis is a highlight factory.
With virtually unparalleled quickness and the ability to torque his body in mid-flight, Ellis has a knack for pulling off some of the most impressive aerial acrobatics of any player in the league. Because of that, he's got a pretty dedicated following among casual fans who tend to overvalue his prolific repertoire of highlight snippets.
For evidence of the loyalty of Ellis' fans, check out how Golden State Warriors supporters treated owner Joe Lacob just after he dealt their beloved shot-maker to Milwaukee last March.
Pretty rough, right? Well, that's what happens with Ellis; fans love his highs, but don't seem to acknowledge his litany of shortcomings.
The numbers show Ellis to be only a slightly below-average defender this season, as the Bucks are just two-and-a-half points worse per 100 possessions when he's on the floor. From a broader perspective, though, Ellis' defensive indifference is hugely problematic.
Rarely committed individually and almost always completely unwilling to embrace schemes, most of Ellis' defense comes in the form of steals. He gambles plenty, which leads to the occasional breakaway, but more often leaves his teammates at a disadvantage. If Larry Sanders weren't one of the league's most dominant interior erasers, the Bucks would be suffering much more because of Ellis' defensive mentality.
So, given the pros and cons of Ellis' game, the Bucks will be in a tough spot when it comes to deciding what to do with him.
Grantland's Zach Lowe, for one, is of the opinion that Milwaukee would be better off committing itself to newly acquired J.J. Redick than to Ellis.
I'll say this: Any minutes the Bucks shift from Monta Ellis to J.J. Redick represent a big plus.— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) February 21, 2013
But if the Bucks do feel compelled to try to retain the services of their scoring dynamo, they'll have to figure out how much they're willing to pay him.
With plenty of teams, including the Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks and Utah Jazz poised to have a ton of cap space, there's a chance that somebody will offer Ellis big money. Something in the neighborhood of $8-10 million over three or four seasons isn't out of the question.
On the other hand, many teams in the league are learning that it's not a wise strategy to overpay non-elite wings, a category into which Ellis probably fits. The San Antonio Spurs, for example, are doing quite nicely with the bargain-basement services of Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard. And ask the Houston Rockets how happy they are with Chandler Parsons at less than $1 million per year.
Realistically, a contract somewhere in line with the four-year, $20 million deal Jamal Crawford is getting from the L.A. Clippers seems like the most reasonable outcome. Ellis, like Crawford, is really just a scoring threat who should be used in a more limited fashion.
However, Ellis, unlike Crawford, has convinced the rest of the league that he's not only a starter, but also a star. It seems unlikely that he'll be willing to accept such a downgrade in pay.
It'll be tempting for the Bucks to compensate Ellis based on the bright spots of his tenure in Milwaukee, like his incredible 39-point barrage against Orlando. But they've also got to realize that they'd also potentially be paying him for his overall game, which is really not one that has proven conducive to winning.
The wisest course for Milwaukee is probably to let Ellis walk away.