The Dallas Mavericks entered the 2013 NBA offseason in need of a superstar presence. Monta Ellis kicked off his summer by searching for the right situation to put him back on track to joining that elite group of world-class talents.
After the two sides came to agreement on a three-year deal worth more than $25 million, does this now have the makings of a match made in heaven?
That may largely hinge on which Ellis the Mavericks will get. Last season he was an inefficient volume scorer, racking up 19.2 points a night but needing 17.5 field-goal attempts to hit that mark.
As Ellis told Mavericks.com's Earl K. Sneed, he plans on bringing a much more productive game to Dallas:
Monta Ellis says he believes he can get back to 2009-10 Monta, who averaged 25.5 ppg.— Earl K. Sneed (@EarlKSneed) August 15, 2013
His scoring won't be the number that Dallas fans are concerned about. He knows how to put the ball in the basket and hasn't averaged fewer than 19 points since his sophomore campaign in 2006-07.
It's the way that he finds those points that will largely determine the success of this pairing.
It's puzzling that Ellis would point to the 2009-10 season as the one he hopes to relive with the Mavericks. Outside of his scoring average, nearly the rest of his stat sheet showed marked improvements in the following season as shown in the table below.
Luckily something lies beneath those numbers that should serve his new team well.
In 2009-10, Ellis was trapped inside a toxic locker room with the Golden State Warriors. Some of that drama was self-inflicted (Ellis was less than welcoming to rookie backcourt mate Stephen Curry), but some was outside of his control (a disgruntled Stephen Jackson was shipped to the Charlotte Bobcats for spare parts just nine games into the season).
By 2010-11, though, most of that toxicity had subsided. Ellis embraced Curry on and off the floor. David Lee was brought in to keep defensive attention away from the team's potent backcourt. Ellis' efficiency flourished.
The situation Ellis will enter in Dallas looks even more conducive to his growth.
For starters he has a Hall of Fame-bound 7-foot scorer in Dirk Nowitzki who will command the top spot on the opposition's defensive game plan. Ellis has played with dominant scorers before, but none that can match Nowitzki's combination of size and offensive skill.
This also marks the first time in his career that Ellis will share the backcourt with a pass-first point guard in Jose Calderon. Calderon may not have the athleticism or scoring prowess of the majority of his peers, but his basketball IQ scores are off the charts. He's held one of the top-three slots in assist-to-turnover ratio in each of the last six seasons, finishing first in the category three different times.
As Calderon told the Associated Press, via NBA.com, his approach to the hardwood is always substance over style. "Maybe not going to be fancy passes for me," he said. "Just effective. That's what I do."
Having a true table-setter and an all-time-great scorer will help Ellis exponentially, but the biggest gift for him may come from the peace of mind he's been denied for several seasons. Granted he's been well compensated for his work, but it's impossible to put a price tag on happiness.
"When you're in a place where you're unhappy, it's very hard to perform to your best ability," Ellis said, via NBA.com. "So this is a new beginning, a new fresh start, better organization, better teammates."
It's been a while since his name was held in a positive light by the analytical crowd. He's spent the last several seasons looking like he's trying to do too much for his team, setting his trigger too often to automatic and setting his sights from further away from the target.
But one could argue that he's been forced into that unsightly role by a lack of skillful supporting players. He was shipped out of Golden State before he and Curry had the chance to hit their collective stride. In Milwaukee he was paired with a point guard (Brandon Jennings) who's put together one 40-plus-percent shooting season in four tries.
He won't have that problem in Dallas.
What he will have is a veteran-laden locker room, a championship-pedigree head coach (Rick Carlisle) and the recipe for success that's often eluded him.
It's on Ellis to make the most of this opportunity.
He needs to fight the urge to fire up the first open look and work for shots closer to the basket. He needs to give consistent effort on the defensive end of the floor. His energy level can't waver regardless of how much (or how little) of the offensive pie he's served up on a nightly basis.
If he's willing to accept those challenges, then the Mavericks are more than willing to foster his return to relevance. The payoff for Ellis, and the Mavericks, could prove invaluable.