Where will Monta Ellis be at the beginning of the 2013-14 season? (Photo credit)
People generally underrate the impact coaches have on shaping a player’s career. Aside from ego, most of these guys come in as blank slates. They don’t have defined roles, they still have skills to develop, and ultimately, you can turn them into whatever you need them to be if you coach them correctly.
Take Jason Terry: a shoot-first, second and third guard who plays about as much defense as David Ortiz. He spent the first five years of his career as the best player on a series of forgettable Atlanta teams (won no more than 35 games). Then he goes to Dallas, where Don Nelson and Avery Johnson bumble their way out of jobs. Terry got better in Dallas because he was playing with real players, but he still wasn’t being maximized.
Then Rick Carlisle came and changed everything. Rather than continuing to stick a square peg in a round hole, Carlisle asked Terry to come off the bench, lead the offense for 4-6 minutes per half, shoot as much as he wants in that time, and then go back to being a supporting player for the rest of the game. He could use his other bench spots to hide Terry on defense, and he could stick him at either guard spot depending on the situation.
Terry embraced his role as a sixth man, winning a Sixth Man of the Year award and a title, all because Carlisle was smart enough to know how to maximize his player. You don’t just start your best guy at every position; you have to figure out the best way to fit the talents of every player into a team structure. There’s a reason Manu Ginobili doesn’t start for San Antonio and it’s not that he isn’t good enough.
What does all of this have to do with Monta Ellis? He got stuck with Nelson as his coach early on, whose small-ball obsession forced him into the starting lineup and never allowed him to develop any sort of defensive skill. Now Monta Ellis is... well... Monta Ellis, a guard whose only skill is shooting and will kill your team in every other area.
Some of Ellis’ stats are mind blowing, and not in a good way. He took more shots per game in ’09-’10 than LeBron. Not Miami LeBron, Cleveland LeBron. He and Brandon Jennings combined to take 33 shots per game last year... and neither shot above 42 percent. I could go on and on. Ellis is basically a slightly better Terry who isn’t as valuable as a teammate.
On the right team, Ellis can be a better Terry, one of the two or three best sixth men in the league who can carry an offense for stretches. The question is, is there a team out there that can both afford him and give him this role?
The perfect team for him would be Chicago. Tom Thibodeau would know how to use him, could teach him a thing or two on defense, and could actually relieve the insane minutes some of the starters are playing. Problem is, Chicago doesn’t have the money to sign him, so unless they’re willing to dangle Luol Deng in a sign and trade (possible, but I doubt it), they’re out of the running.
Indiana would make sense, but they’re not shelling out that kind of money for him. Ditto for Memphis, and Boston already spent on Jason Terry last year. In other words, the list of contenders who would actually pay for him are pretty slim.
I hope a good team finds a way to snag Ellis. I really do. I want to see what he’s capable of with a good coach and a winning culture around him. I think he could be a better version of Terry, but sadly, I don’t think we’ll ever get the chance to see that.
So here’s how I think all of this is gonna go down. Ellis is going to wait around for a few weeks while the big fish get taken care of. He’ll mull over his options, see who misses out on the real stars, and then pounce on a desperate team.
My pick? Atlanta. They’re going to miss out on Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, need someone to sell to their fans, and will overpay for Ellis to be their lead guard and scorer. Is it a smart basketball move? Absolutely not, but Ellis has priced himself out of the “smart basketball move” category. Nobody is going to be happy to spend big bucks on Ellis, but someone is going to do it. My bet is Atlanta.
Prediction: Atlanta Hawks, four years, $50 million
By: Sam Quinn