OAKLAND – Officially it was a road game, Bucks at Warriors. In real life, though, Monta Ellis was simply playing a home game a little backward, from a different locker room to a different bench but ending up on the same Oracle Arena court and definitely in front of the same fans.
A fluke of the schedule put his Milwaukee debut, after being traded by Golden State with Ekpe Udoh and Kwame Brown for Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson, in his home of nearly seven seasons. Ellis was greeted with “Monta! Monta!” the instant he stepped out of the tunnel to shoot an hour before tip, got a 40-second ovation from fans and several former teammates during pre-game introductions, then shared a video tribute with Udoh on the message board above center court during a timeout in the first quarter. Imagine once people have a chance to miss him.
The changes were to a green uniform and to uniform No. 11, his high school number, but otherwise it felt like a throwback, all the way to last weekend. Ellis was still a 6-foot-3 shooting guard in a small backcourt, now with Brandon Jennings instead of Stephen Curry, and still in Oakland. And still a scorer, of course, with 18 points toward Milwaukee’s 120-98 victory.
The surroundings just didn’t change the fact Ellis knew it was time for a change. Bogut, who could miss the rest of the season with an ankle injury, said the same thing before the game, calling parting with the only professional team he had known a mutual divorce. Annual trade speculation had worn on Ellis, he had matured in recent years but was still viewed around the league as the second-best Warriors guard, rookie Klay Thompson was in place as successor, and the usual preseason excitement had too often turned to disappointment in the standings.
“I think it was time for a split,” he said. “I knew it was going to come to this one day at one point in my life. I used to be that young guy coming in playing behind Baron (Davis) and Stephen Jackson, and they got traded. I knew one day that some young guy was going to come in behind me and do the same thing, so I was prepared for it. I left on a great note, had a great career here. I wish them the best, and I think it was a great trade for both teams.”
Davis actually left on his own, with a shocking departure to the Clippers as a free agent, and Jackson forced the trade that got him out of town, so it’s not really the same. But, yes, things change. Even when it seems a lot like a home game.