Mavs Monta - And What's Going Wrong
In the wake of the Rick Carlisle comments following a Sunday loss to the Suns (the questioning of his team's "soul'' sounding so ominous) combined with Monta Ellis's abysmal shooting night, attention has landed on Monta as a problem area with the Dallas Mavericks. If we accept that’s true, how did we get here?
Maybe this was always inevitable, with Monta being a scorer who needs the ball and a lot of shots. Or maybe it was due the closer he got to a new contract.
But I tend to think that Monta's focus may have great when he arrived, yet gradually shifted, and that the shifting was due to some changes in the Mavs' world around him.
IS THIS WHAT WENT WRONG?
This is my speculation, and let me be clear that this is from tea leaves and nothing more. I'm willing to assume that Monta arrived here with a determined, team-oriented attitude. He signed a team-friendly contract, and he wanted to do whatever it takes to fit in and win. When he first arrived, he was paid more than Calderon (but in the same general ballpark) and much less than Dirk the superstar. He was working hard to be Robin, to fit in, to be a part of a team goal. Then in the summer after his first season, and after, he saw things happen, and here’s how I would speculate it impacted his thinking as things evolved. All dates are approximate, and his “thoughts” are in parenthesis.??
JUNE 25, 2014 … TY is added, making about $15M (that will help the team, but he's getting paid way more than me - I guess that's okay, because he's a center and it's an existing deal, but still ...)
JULY 12, 2014 … Parsons is added, making about $15M (that will help the team, but he's getting paid way more than me - I guess that's okay, because that's what it took to get him out of HOU, but ...)
JULY 14, 2104 … Dirk signs, now making about $8M (aha, I'm not the only one sacrificing, and Dirk is the superstar here - in fact, I make a bit more than him, we're all working together, much better ...)
Oct - Dec, 2014 … Dirk approaches the season in a "save-myself-for-the-playoffs" approach, and Monta assumes the weight of having to carry the team much of the time (hmmmm, maybe I am the REAL superstar here, and maybe Dirk's deal wasn't a sacrifice to team after all, but let's make this work and win)
DEC 20, 2014 … Rondo arrives via trade, making $13M (whoa, I better rethink this a bit, now I'm the low man on the salary totem pole here while being the go-to guy much of the time - but it's contract time this summer, and that can fix the problem).
JAN 2015 … News hits of a new TV deal and that the cap will be $90M in 2016, where salaries will get much bigger for everyone (wait, I can only get 14.6M this summer, and others can get way more using Bird rights? am I going to be the low man on the totem pole forever, and the only one sacrificing?)?
FEB 2015 … Articles and media discussions about how Mavs want to keep everyone, may need to squeeze salaries a tad to do so, need to get Rondo to be a fit both on the court and on the payroll (Rondo? How about Monta? I better make sure I get my stats, because I have to play for a paycheck and make sure they know how valuable I am)
And speculatively, maybe that's how we got to where we are with Monta.
BUT WAIT, MAYBE THERE’S MORE
With all that having been said, I think there could be one other issue that may be impacting Monta’s play over the last month or so.
The problem has to do with the way he’s been used. He’s not big, yet he wants to play every game, and play a ton of minutes. So all season, the Mavs have ridden him hard, not only in terms of being on the court but also as to his role. Because he’s a bit undersized at his position, as the season goes on, he's going to wear down. In the last part of the season, as we get closer to new contract time, he has to over-extend himself even more to keep his stats up (becoming more inefficient in the process).
If that’s part of the issue, the blame for that lands on some big names in the Mavs’ kingdom. A large part of it certainly goes on Carlisle, who doles out the minutes.
But it goes beyond that, because it’s not just the minutes but also the fact that Ellis has had to be the go-to player on this team. Not Dirk. And that’s not really a product of Dirk’s age.
Frankly, Dirk has somewhat treated the season like he is half-retired already, overtly "saving himself" for the playoffs. Isn’t that, in a very real way, the “not-playing-hard” mindset that Carlisle has noted? It may be that Dirk plays hard at times, but he sure has been sending the message that hard play is for later.
It’s no secret that Dirk has played lazier ball this season, both physically (as he takes the easy way out of avoiding the lower-post play and drifts more and more to the perimeter) and mentally (as he talks about saving himself, about his age, and the like). As he does those things, it has inevitably changed the team dynamic. Is Dirk a superstar, or just a shooter? Can they rely on him? Should the rest of the team follow his lead and save themselves for the playoffs? Isn't that all part of Amare's "Cheating-The-Game'' talk from 10 days ago? It’s a nasty conundrum, and more and more, I’m having doubts that Rick and Dirk have handled the challenge the right way this season.
All of that has a trickle-down effect, of course. It changes roles, it changes team focus, it even changes the style of play in the Flow offense. And, undoubtedly, that means it has to have an impact on Monta.
Answers? I have no idea. This is why Carlisle gets the big bucks, to eliminate these problems before they arise, and to fix them if they happen anyhow. (Though as Fish notes: It's rarely the coach's job to fix money issues. But Rick is in charge of everything else here.)
This is an immensely talented team. It’s not perfect, but the talent is here. Is it as disastrous and some seem to think , and virtually too late? The schedule for the balance of the season is playoff-caliber, and then it gets even harder. We’ll soon find out, with the Mavs well-aware that you can't find the cure until you first know the illness. I believe we now know the illness.
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