Potential Free-Agent Landing Spots for Monta Ellis
Monta Ellis has a lot of choices this offseason, but they all revolve around one option.
The high-scoring shooting guard has until June 20 to accept or decline his player option. If he does pick it up, he'll make $11 million and remain a member of the Milwaukee Bucks. If he declines it, he'll make less and find a new locale.
UPDATE by Zach Buckley on June 17 at 10 p.m. ET
According to ESPN's Chris Broussard, Ellis has informed Milwaukee that he will be opting out of the final year of his contract.
Not only is he walking away from the $11 million for next season, but he also previously turned down a two-year, $24 million contract extension from the Bucks that would have required him to opt in to the final year of his deal.
Sources told Broussard that the Atlanta Hawks, Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers all have interest in the guard. The Hawks and Mavericks have the cap space to sign him outright, while the cash-strapped Lakers could only acquire him via a sign-and-trade deal.
He'll officially become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
--END OF UPDATE
Remaining with Milwaukee is still technically an option (although a highly unlikely one), but it's looking more and more like Ellis will be bringing his oft-shooting ways to a new city for the 2013-14 campaign.
The Atlanta Hawks are in the best position of any other team in the NBA to spend this offseason, so they're inevitably going to be paired up with just about every marquee free agent out there. That's what happens when you have just $18 million on the books (plus the non-guaranteed contacts of DeShawn Stevenson and Mike Scott).
If general manager Danny Ferry can't get his hands on Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, he's likely to target the next-best tier of FAs. Ideally, some of them will be scorers, and that's where Ellis fits in.
Great as Al Horford and Jeff Teague may be—Atlanta would match offers on the latter if CP3 doesn't come to town—neither should function as a primary scorer, and that's a role Ellis is comfortable in. He thrives when he's allowed free rein, and teams sometimes have to accept the bad along with the good.
In Atlanta, Philips Arena is commonly referred to as "The Highlight Factory," and it would especially live up to its billing should Ellis call it home. We've all seen the SportsCenter clips of Ellis hitting ridiculous circus shots after drawing contact, or knocking down game-winners that only he and J.R. Smith would dream of taking.
The oft-shooting 2-guard would create an intriguing pairing with Teague, especially because the two have such a contrast in styles. The Wake Forest product thrives running pick-and-roll sets, while Ellis is best with the ball in his hands during isolation plays.
The 27-year-old isn't going to be Atlanta's first choice, but he's certainly an option.
Dirk Nowitzki needs help in Dallas, and Monta Ellis could certainly help provide some of it. A lot of it, in fact.
O.J. Mayo won't be back, as he's well aware that he'll make more than his $4.2 million player option for next season on the open market. Nothing is official, but Mayo is as good as gone.
That's where Ellis enters the picture.
Ellis would become the primary ball-handler right off the bat in Dallas. The Mavericks have had trouble finding a franchise point guard, and it's tough to imagine that changing this offseason and them still signing Ellis. It's an either-or situation, and someone like Darren Collison isn't going to control the rock over the Mississippi Missile.
Dallas also has plenty of cap room, giving them the ability to appease Ellis in the financial department. He wouldn't be making the $11 million he'd get by staying with Milwaukee, but Dallas only has $42.7 million committed for next season. That number could drop ever further if Mayo opts out, and potentially further still if Shawn Marion uses the early termination option in his contract.
With Mayo out of the picture, Vince Carter would be the second-best scorer in Dallas. That might have worked a decade ago, but despite what Tim Duncan's play would have you believe, we're operating in 2013, not 2003.
Dallas desperately needs a second point-producer, and Ellis can be that guy.
The Phoenix Suns are another team searching for not just a secondary scoring option, but a primary one. Michael Beasley was brought in to be that guy, but the experiment was ultimately doomed for failure.
Beasley ended up buried on the bench in the desert, and now the Suns are left looking for a new offensive stud. If things sound bad now, they're about to get worse.
Phoenix has 12 players under contract for the 2013-14 season, including Shannon Brown, Hamed Haddadi and P.J. Tucker, all of whom have non-guaranteed salaries, but management is already on the books for $48.3 million. With the salary cap expected to fall in around $59 or $60 million, that doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room, and a player like Ellis is the best Phoenix can afford.
Shooting guard is also the biggest need for the Suns. Marcin Gortat and Goran Dragic are the two best players on the roster, and between the Morris twins and Luis Scola, the forward positions are under control. While Brown, Tucker and Jared Dudley are solid players, they aren't going to give Phoenix the offensive production it needs at the 2.
Ellis lives to give teams that offensive production. As long as he's not expected to spread the court with his three-point shooting, he'd thrive for the Suns. Remember, Ellis was at his best during the 2010-11 season for the Golden State Warriors when he played alongside a young point guard who didn't always need the ball to succeed. Stephen Curry wasn't a superstar back then, although he was certainly a fantastic asset for the Dubs.
Playing next to Dragic, Ellis might be able to match those 24.1 points and 5.6 assists on 45.1 percent shooting that he was able to average just two seasons ago.
Portland Trail Blazers
In terms of fit, there's not a better situation for Ellis than the one presented to him by the Portland Trail Blazers.
Rip City has two primary needs during the offseason. It must find a replacement for J.J. Hickson (ideally a defensive center who can take some of the pressure off LaMarcus Aldridge), and it needs depth across the board.
Let's say that Portland uses the draft to find that defensive center, selecting someone like Pittsburgh's Steven Adams and then letting last year's first-rounder, Meyers Leonard, step into the starting lineup. The Blazers seem to like Leonard, after all.
If that's the case, general manager Neil Olshey can focus on finding depth with his cap room. Portland has $44.6 million committed to nine players, so it could sign someone like Ellis and then fill out the roster with cheaper options.
Can you imagine the damage that Ellis would do as a sixth man? You could go ahead and pencil him in to follow up J.R. Smith as the Sixth Man of the Year, because he'd thrive as the sparkplug off the bench. Ellis would solve Portland's problems with backcourt depth and make retaining Eric Maynor, now a restricted free agent, more of a luxury than a necessity.
This is one of the few Monta Ellis scenarios that have been verified by actual sources (the rest mostly speculation at this point).
The following comes to you courtesy of Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears:
Ellis plans to opt out of the $11 million final year of his contract with the Bucks to become a free agent this summer, the source said. Ellis became acquainted with [Sacramento's new head coach, Mike] Malone, an assistant on Mark Jackson's Golden State Warriors' staff, during his last season in Golden State before he was traded to Milwaukee. During that brief time, Ellis quickly gained a great deal of respect for Malone's basketball IQ and his ability to teach and relate to players.
Ellis joining the Kings would make the restricted free agency of Tyreke Evans even more interesting. The combo-guard would be more expendable, although bringing him back and forming a jump-shot-less backcourt that can get to the rim at will is quite intriguing.
CBS Sports' Ken Berger also previously reported in May:
Oddly, a member of the proposed ownership group trying to keep the Kings in Sacramento has done some background checking on Ellis as a possibility for the Kings if the team decides to part ways with restricted free agent Tyreke Evans this summer, a league source involved in the discussions said. Ellis is weighing his options and hasn't decided yet whether he will opt out of his $11 million deal.
That "proposed ownership group," of course, turned out to be the one led by Vivek Ranadive, and it's the one in charge this offseason. Ellis is now a serious possibility if he opts out of his contract with the Bucks.
And a free-agent rumble: There's a rising belief in exec circles that Bucks prefer to re-sign Monta Ellis over Brandon Jennings this summer— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) May 29, 2013
Bucks still have coaching choice to make: Larry Drew or Kelvin Sampson. But in backcourt there is sense they prefer Monta/Redick next season
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) May 29, 2013
The latter choice is no longer relevant, as Milwaukee went with Larry Drew over Kelvin Sampson. But the first one is still very much a hot topic, and personally, I'd go with Brandon Jennings over Ellis.
However, Ellis ultimately controls his own fate. If he wants to return, that's what he'll do. It's rare that money isn't the driving force in free-agent decisions, but that's exactly what we might see happen this offseason with Monta Ellis.