The Dallas Mavericks came up empty in their pursuit of top-end free-agent targets for the second summer in a row. As disheartening as that reality is, things have gotten even worse with the desperate signing of Monta Ellis.
Marc Stein of ESPN was first to report on the Mavs' uninspiring move, tweeting that Dallas was on the brink of completing a three-year deal that would pay Ellis as much as $30 million. From Ellis' perspective, that was an offer far too good to pass up.
After opting out of the last year of his six-year, $66 million deal with the Milwaukee Bucks, the suitors weren't exactly lining up for his services. Through the first few days of free agency, it appeared as though the increasingly analytical NBA had unanimously arrived at the conclusion that players like Ellis simply weren't worth big dollars.
Per Chris Broussard of ESPN The Magazine, Ellis was immensely frustrated with the rude awakening he received on the open market. That aggravation resulted in Ellis firing his agent, Jeff Fried, on July 10. The move was rash, but if Fried had anything to do with convincing Ellis to turn down the three-year, $36 million extension the Bucks offered earlier this year, it might have been justified.
The Mavs, though, swooped in and happily overpaid Ellis. Apparently, desperate times really do call for desperate measures.
NBA pundits spoke up immediately and in near unanimity: The Mavericks made a huge mistake. The majority isn't always right, but in this case, there's really not much of a case for defending Dallas' decision. Here's why:
The Ellis Experience
Teams don't win when Ellis plays a significant role. That's a simple fact, supported by far too many years of evidence to be a coincidence.
Of course, thanks to a number of highlights and some admittedly breathtaking drives to the hoop, there are still plenty of fans who believe Ellis to be a valuable player. That's just a case of Ellis' flash blinding folks to the truth.
The scouting report on the lightning-quick guard has been the same for a long time: He's simply incapable of playing efficient offensive basketball, and he refuses to commit to even the most basic defensive schemes.
Taking his offensive issues first, a reliance on low-percentage jumpers (typically off the dribble) has resulted in Ellis posting consistently poor field-goal percentages over the past few seasons. It wasn't always this way, as Ellis was once a player who thrived in transition and rarely shot three-pointers.
But last season, Ellis shot just 41.6 percent from the field and 28.7 percent from beyond the three-point arc. Those accuracy rates are bad in any context, but when they belong to a high-volume shooter, they're devastating to an offense.
Ellis infamously compared himself to Dwyane Wade last year, deservedly drawing scoffs from around the league.
His shot chart from 2012-13 pretty clearly shows that championships aren't the only difference between Ellis and Wade.
And as detrimental as Ellis is to a team's offense, he's been even more of a negative on defense.
Casual observers tend to point to Ellis' steal totals (he averaged 2.1 per game last season) as evidence of his defensive prowess. But steals are essentially a worthless defensive metric, as they reward gamblers like Ellis who don't commit to playing technically sound team defense.
Anecdotally, Ellis tends to reach far too often, has a poor grasp of proper rotations and almost never defends in one-on-one situations by moving his feet or playing the angles.
There are plenty of poor defensive guards in the NBA, but because Ellis possesses such incredible physical gifts, his unwillingness to buckle down is particularly maddening.
Either Ellis doesn't understand how to play fundamentally sound defense, or he's just not interested in trying. Whatever the cause, the effect is that he simply doesn't contribute anything positive on D.
What Ellis Means for the Mavs
After missing out on Dwight Howard, the Mavericks had to scramble to find ways to divvy up their remaining cap space. When they couldn't land a big name last season, they spent money on short-term deals in an effort to preserve future flexibility.
This time, they dumped a pile of money at Ellis' feet.
Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas synthesized the danger of such a hasty decision:
The worst thing the Dallas Mavericks could do was to overpay for players who weren’t good enough to be key pieces on title teams. We’ve heard that over and over from the Mavs front-office folks over the last two years. No matter what happened, they couldn’t make panic moves for significant long-term money.
Isn't that what they just did with Monta Ellis?
Ellis is probably best utilized as a bench scorer who sees about 20 to 25 minutes per game when the matchups favor a player with his skills. But paying him like a starter cuts against everything the Mavs seemed to stand for.
Dallas is a smart organization. Its analytics department is undoubtedly the best money can buy, which is why the Ellis signing is so perplexing.
If the Mavs wanted a one-dimensional scorer, they could have retained O.J. Mayo for less than they paid Ellis. Everything about this decision screams "panic."
Now, as Dirk Nowitzki tries to hang on for a few more years and the Mavs attempt to land top-end free agents next summer, their salary situation won't be nearly as favorable.
Maybe Ellis will improve his efficiency alongside new point guard Jose Calderon. And perhaps Rick Carlisle, one of the sharpest strategists in the business, will find a way to maximize his new shooting guard's offensive talents while minimizing his negative defensive impact.
But even if things work out in the best way imaginable, Dallas fans are still going to have to learn to live with the repeated frustration of watching Ellis throw away possessions and give away baskets.
Even worse, the Mavs are still going to be stuck paying a role player like a star.
And that's not how you chase championships.
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