HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Waiting and watching the free-agent landscape unfold is high-volume shooter and scorer Monta Ellis.
J.R. Smith became the latest shooting guard to take himself off the market Thursday morning when he agreed to re-up with the New York Knicks for four years and $24.7 million.
Others who have reached similar agreements (contracts can’t be signed until Wednesday) include Kyle Korver with Atlanta (four years, $24 million) and J.J. Redick with the Los Angeles Clippers (four years, $27 million).
Those players are known quantities. Teams know what they’re getting and their salaries are slotted as such. O.J. Mayo apparently remains in discussions with the Milwaukee Bucks on a multiyear deal. He’s younger than the others and more of a mystery in terms of unlocking his potential.
One mystery man who will cash in on upside is Tyreke Evans. The New Orleans Pelicans made a surprising bid for the Sacramento Kings guard and Evans was prepared to sign a four-year, $44-million offer sheet. On Friday, the Pelicans, Kings and Portland Trail Blazers completed a three-way trade that gives the fourth overall pick in the 2009 draft a fresh start with the feisty Pelicans.
That leaves Ellis as the most intriguing and most dangerous shooting guard still available. The eight-year vet hasn’t had much headline buzz during this first week of free agency. Ellis chose to become a free agent when he opted out of the final year of his deal that would have paid him $11 million. He signed a six-year, $66 million deal with the Golden State Warriors as a 22-year-old.
Any day now, perhaps soon after Dwight Howard finally makes his decision, we’ll find out the rate for a streaky scorer who averaged 19.2 ppg and 6.0 apg last season, but who connected on just 41.6 percent of his overall shot attempts and 28.7 percent from beyond the arc.
Only Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook attempted more shots than Ellis’ 1,436 field-goal attempts last season. Among the top 10 in total points (Ellis finished eighth), Ellis made more field goals than only rookie Damian Lillard, and Ellis and Westbrook (plus LaMarcus Aldridge) were the only ones not to make at least 100 3-pointers.
Still, Ellis (a career 31.8-percent 3-point shooter) can light it up on any given night and that type of scoring prowess is enticing. He is reportedly more interested in signing with a team with a fighting chance than one that will pay him the most money. Now 27, Ellis is smack in his prime and could be a valuable piece on a good team, but will he get paid prime-time money?
There is also another factor regarding Ellis: He’s largely untested as a prime-time player. He has just 15 playoff games under his belt in eight seasons. This year’s first-round sweep to the eventual repeat champion Heat didn’t go well. Ellis averaged 14.3 ppg and shot 15.8 percent from 3-point land. In 2007 when the Warriors upset the No. 1-seeded Dallas Mavericks, a young Ellis saw his 16.5 ppg in the regular season shrink to half that in the playoffs and he shot 11.1 percent from beyond the arc.
The teams that lose out on Howard will have money to spend and needs to fill such as the Mavericks, whose backcourt at the moment consists of draft pick Shane Larkin and a graying Vince Carter.
So where will Ellis land and how much will he get paid?