Mavs At Lakers - Starring Monta's Many Moods
Whether you root for the Dallas Mavericks or any other team in any other sport at any other level, there is a great value in your ability to separate the "art'' from the "artist.'' It's how we're able to enjoy "Annie Hall'' without "supporting'' the fact that Woody Allen essentially married his own daughter. It's how you can like music by The Beatles while not concerning yourself too much with the fact that John Lennon was an admitted and chronic domestic-violence perp. It's why my buddy Dale Hansen is twisted and wrong to think the Cowboys signing of Greg Hardy somehow means Jason Garrett's dad and Jerry Jones' daughter are soft on crimes against women.
And it's how you can marvel appreciatively at the athletic brilliance and Mavs-centric importance of Monta Ellis while still allowing yourself to be troubled by his moodiness.
This is not a new story. DallasBasketball.com first suggested the existence of a crack in the Mavs' locker-room foundation back on March 10 in this Mike Marshall piece. After last month's loss in Phoenix, coach Rick Carlisle intentionally, I think, opened the doors to speculation about an in-house problem that needed fixing while questioning his players' basketball "souls.'' The mainstream media then started writing about the issue as it related to Monta, and none did it better than DB.com's David Lord, who very specifically pinpointed the problems Ellis has with the roster's "power structure,'' if you will.
And then on Friday in Denver, as Dallas came away with a 144-143 win in double OT when unlikely hero Raymond Felton converted a layup with 1.5 seconds left and then blocked Kenneth Faried's in-the-paint shot ... there was a very visible Monta, not appearing to be at all engaged with the on-the-court happenings, choosing to instead recline on the floor, even during a timeout huddle.
Why, specifically, did Monta choose that mood? It's not fair to suggest that at specific moment his actions were in any way related to money or free agency. It is entirely fair to suggest that he struck a pouty pose because he disagreed with Carlisle's decision to pull Monta, Dirk and TY from the game to start the second OT -- that Monta's "stubborn valor'' meant a desire to play 100 minutes if needed, and to take 100 game-winning shots if needed.
But the coach decided that the 48-31 Mavs -- locked into the No. 7 spot in the Western Conference and trying to manage minutes with playoff readiness the obvious priority over all else -- didn't need that from Monta. And Monta's response was to physically separate himself from his team.
Does that mean he was/is emotionally and intellectually separated from them? That would be speculative, and as much as I like and respect Monta and his talent, I certainly hope not.
But did Monta Ellis know exactly what he was doing when he plopped himself on the floor? Yes. Was he aware of the potential of looking to some critics like a bored, jealous child? Yes.
Did he care enough about negative appearances to join his team in the huddle, to encourage Felton to succeed, and then to send a positive message by rejoicing in the immediate aftermath of the win? No.
I'm not cherry-picking a singular ugly moment here, any more than I would cherry-pick a single positive moment (a photo of a smiling Monta afloat in a sea of Mavs smiles, say) to "prove'' everything is peachy. If you've read this space over the course of 15 years of DB.com, followed my work in DFW for the last 25 years, or are aware of my work covering pro sports for 33 years, you know I am far from a "hater'' or a "basher.'' My job allows me the freedom of Mavs homerism and I exercise that freedom daily.
It is in that spirit that I say, hopefully: This situation is a bubbling cauldron of emotion, ego and enigmatic behavior but it's one that can be funneled in a productive direction. Monta's defensive effort can improve in a way that helps the Mavericks put an end to allowing an average of 118.8 points while splitting their last six games. Monta's offensive effort can make sure to feature Dirk Nowitzki, rounding into playoff form as over these last six games he's averaging 20 points on 52.5-percent shooting. And yes, when Chandler Parsons gets back on the floor to shake off rust sometime in the next three games, Monta and Rondo need to be inclusive ... because if this all works, hey, Dallas can close strong, win 50, and then succeed in the postseason, and there can be plenty of money, power and glory to go around for everyone.
But what if, tonight against the 21-58 Lakers (so bad they've already recorded the franchise's most losses in one season, with three more shots at extending that) Carlisle decides that just as Rondo sat against Denver, it's Monta's turn to sit tonight against a Lakers team that has lost six straight to Dallas? Or, what if Monday at Utah, Carlisle decides to follow the unorthodox-but-understandable advice of my FOX Sports Southwest colleague Bob Ortegel (with me on TV tonight for the 8 p.m. pregame), who thinks the Mavs should send Dirk and others home from LA, bypassing altogether the rigors of a meaningless late-night game and exit from Salt Lake City?
Most of the guys understand the logic and bow to Carlisle's direction.
"I think we'll have enough time before we start that first (playoff) game with a couple of days to get some good practice in,'' center Tyson Chandler "especially if guys are rested.''
Artists can be moody. And Monta Ellis The Artist may be too proud to bow. But he can send a message -- not to the consumers but rather to his own team -- by at least getting up off the floor.
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