Shooting guard Monta Ellis and the Indiana Pacers have come to terms on a four-year, $44-million contract, according to ESPN.com and Associated Press.
The contract can’t be signed until July 9, but ESPN.com reported Ellis and the Pacers had verbally agreed to the deal, which includes an option for him to become a free agent after the third year.
ESPN confirmed the deal through the player’s agent, Jeff Fried, and cited sources in reporting that Ellis turned down a more lucrative four-year, $48-million offer from the Sacramento Kings.
Aside from the chance to play with two-time All-Star Paul George, Ellis reportedly favored Indianapolis because of the closer proximity to Memphis, Tenn, the hometown of his wife, Juanika, who plans to attend law school in Indianapolis, ESPN reported.
"This is absolutely the best fit for Monta on the court and Monta’s family off the court and in all circumstances involving a young family,'' Fried told ESPN.com. “Our goal was to have the entire family unit come out winners on this deal and that is what we believe we accomplished.”
Ellis, who has averaged 19.3 points in his 10-year NBA career, visited the Pacers on Wednesday. President Larry Bird and other team officials reportedly dined with Ellis, ESPN.com reported. His career scoring average is the highest among players who have never been an NBA All-Star.
Initially expected to be limited in free agency spending, the team received a bit of a surprise when forward David West opted out of the final year of his contract, which was to pay him $12.6 million. That translated to more money to go after Ellis.
After the Pacers failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009-10, Bird candidly discussed his plan for the team to shift its style of play to be more up-tempo and versatile with a strong perimeter presence (i.e. ability to hit 3-pointers). He mentioned George will play more power forward, which means the Pacers are embracing the NBA trend of “small ball” (see the champion Golden State Warriors).
The Pacers were 24th in scoring, including 4-12 in games decided by three points or less. Too many times, the team struggled to score down the stretch, hence the 38-44 record. They also couldn't stay healthy with a combined 219 games lost to injuries.
Ellis, a 6-3 guard who can play the point or shooting guard, was coveted as a clutch scorer. In the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, Ellis ranked second in the NBA with 135 points, three fewer than Houston’s James Harden last season, according to ESPN.com.
Adding Ellis, 29, gives the team a significantly stronger backcourt with point guard George Hill, who Bird and head coach Frank Vogel are convinced can be more of a scorer while still distributing the basketball.
Guard/forward C.J. Miles is a streaky 3-point shooter, but was solid for much of the second half of last season. George, who missed most of last season due to a broken leg, is said to be nearing his former self in offseason workouts, which is important considering the team’s plans to shuffle him between small and power forward. West being gone means George will take that spot.
The real question is what will the Pacers do about center Roy Hibbert, who opted in on a $15.5-million, final-year contract option. Bird and Vogel have said Hibbert, a two-time All-Star for his rim protecting and shot blocking, can expect to play fewer minutes in the new system.
Ellis guard opted out of the final year of his contract with the Dallas Mavericks, passing on $8.7 million, but his new contract pays him significantly more. He averaged 18.9 points last season as the first player other than Dirk Nowitzki to lead the Mavericks in scoring since 1999-2000.
He’s highly regarded as an off-the-dribble offensive threat, but also has been described as moody and suggested as part of the Mavericks’ problem with chemistry issues last season.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.