Mavs + Monta: What's Wrong? What's The Plan?
The Dallas Mavericks' issue with Monta Ellis went public back in that late-season road game at Phoenix, a loss in which coach Rick Carlisle announced a questioning of his team's "soul.''
Then came the obvious dysfunction of Rajon Rondo, with whom Monta was friendly. And then you think back and you remember Amare's "Cheating-The-Game'' talk from 10 days before. And then before that, Mike Marshall and Fish writing on DB.com that there was a Monta issue with his salary vs. Chandler Parsons' salary (the issue being that circumstances had Monta making half what the new kid was being paid) ... and then you had this looming summer, with Ellis and the organization not being certain which direction to go regarding a new contract.
So how did it all come to this, and where is it headed now?
Our view is that Monta's focus may have been great when he arrived, yet gradually shifted, and that the shifting was due to some changes in the Mavs' world around him -- and that those changes are continuing, with the obvious-to-all understanding now ; that Dallas' priorities are LaMarcus Aldridge and DeAndre Jordan and that Ellis is at best a third wheel in that world (and only a third wheel at the right price). Or, at worst, he's an asset that Dallas would utilize to help get Aldridge or Jordan here, via sign-and-trade.
Let's use early tea leaves: Monta arrived here with a determined, team-oriented attitude. "I'm going to play "Monta Basketball'' was nothing bad. All good. He signed a team-friendly contract (because he had to, the market being dry), and he wanted to do whatever it takes to fit in and win.
Initially, on the Dallas financial totem pole, he was paid more than Jose 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 "new-world'' events unfold, here’s how I would speculate it impacted his thinking. All dates are approximate, and his “thoughts” (as I imagine them) are in parenthesis:
JUNE 25, 2014 … Tyson Chandler is added, making about $15 mil (that will help the team, but he's getting paid way more than me - I guess that's OK, because he's a center and it's an existing deal, but still ...)
JULY 12, 2014 … Parsons is added, making about $15 mil (that will help the team, but he's getting paid way more than me - I guess that's OK, because that's what it took to get him out of Houston, but ...)
JULY 14, 2104 … Dirk signs, now making about $8 mil (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 $13 mil (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, I'll be the team's leading scorer, and at that time we can fix the problem).
JAN 2015 … News hits of a new TV deal and that the cap will be $90 mil in 2016, where salaries will get much bigger for everyone (wait, I can only get $14.6 mil 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? And even if I'm eligible for $14.6 mil, does Dallas value me that way?)
FEB 2015 … Articles and media discussions about how Mavs want to keep everyone, may need to squeeze salaries a tad to do so. (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)
JUNE 2015 ... DallasBasketball.com and other outlets are piecing together the Aldridge ideas and the Jordan ideas. (Where are the Monta ideas?)
There are other factors in play here. Monta, in his passive-aggressive way, bucked the coaching staff because he wanted to play every game and play a ton of minutes. That appears to be "basketball soul'' stuff, but maybe it was selfish in the sense that it was contract-driven. (Which doesn't make Monta a jerk; just a mortal.) He over-extended himself even more to win games and to keep his stats up, even to the point of pouting when pulled from the meaningless double-OT game in Denver. His ironman effort resulted in him becoming more inefficient. ... and therefore less attractive.
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 coach Rick Carlisle, who gets paid a great deal of money to dole out the minutes and juggle the egos.
But it's also about the changing, evolving world within the Mavericks. Just one added example: Dirk treated the regular season as if he was "saving himself" for the playoffs. Doesn't that upset the pecking order, and the on-court play? Doesn't that force (or at least allow) Monta to alter his assumptions about his personal minutes, role, importance and more?
All of that had a trickle-down effect, I say. It changes roles, it changes team focus, it changes the style of play in the Flow offense, it even changes locker-room chemistry. And, undoubtedly, that means it had to have an impact on Monta.
By June 24, Ellis will have decided whether to exercise his player option to stay in Dallas for $8.72 mil ... or to hit the streets in search of gold. But even in what I think to be the unlikely event he opts in, Ellis is faced with the issue of seeing a shifting world regarding his future. Who will be his teammates? Where is he on the totem pole financially and on the floor? If Parsons plays a bigger role, who sees his role shrink? If Dallas brings a big fish here, won't Monta be in his shadow? Or ... what if it's a trade of Ellis that helps catch that big fish?
And this shifting world is why Dallas can't and won't "unlike'' Monta. Whether he stays or goes, they need him to like them back. If he's here for another year, they certainly need him at his best. And if they get a "yes'' from a max big fish, they may need cooperation via a Monta sign-and-trade to make that happen. Besides, there's something in it for Monta, too, as they may need his new deal from his new team to include a raise to $10 mil or so, to make the CBA trade math work on the big fish.
The Mavs have to assume a "lack of commitment'' from Monta Ellis now (in the form of declining his option) is coming, which is a right he's earned. But their response in return must be enveloped in a smiley face, as it has been dating all the way back to that "basketball soul'' night in Phoenix, when it was revealed that the Monta-and-the-Mavs world had been changing.
And this summer, it's about to change again.
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