HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — The Dallas Mavericks finally appear to have their big-name free agent and Monta Ellis finally gets his big contract.
Only neither is as big as originally hoped. The Mavs dearly wanted Dwight Howard. He’s in Houston. Ellis opted out of $11 million with the Milwaukee Bucks for one final season. He didn’t find the market he expected. Now he’s headed to Dallas for a reported three years at between $25 million and $30 million.
He joins a roster under extreme reconstruction that, at the moment, is stacked with newcomers in the backcourt. The athletic, volume-shooting Ellis figures to start at shooting guard next to high-IQ point guard Jose Calderon, who signed on for four years and $29 million. Dallas will pay those two around $15 million next season.
ESPN.com’s Marc Stein first reported the Ellis agreement. Stein also reported that the three-year deal that Devin Harris (who has dislocated toe) and Dallas agreed to has been shelved.
Sixth man Vince Carter is the lone returnee and only producer from last season’s train-wreck backcourt. He enters the final year of his deal at $3.2 million.
Dallas also brought in guards Wayne Ellington on a two-year deal, plus rookie free agent Gal Mekel and draft picks Shane Larkin (who will miss possibly three months with ankle injury) and Ricky Ledo. After realizing top free agents (Deron Williams last summer and now Howard) weren’t enamored with a thin roster that wasn’t winning any trades either, the Mavs are in the asset acquisition business.
It’s a different approach than the last two offseasons when owner Mark Cuban sought short-term bang for his buck, and consistently said he would save his money for foundation-type players. Perhaps the Mavs now believe that the 27-year-old Ellis, who has played in two postseasons in his eight-year career, is one. He was certainly the last remaining “impact” free agent on the market.
At the moment, eight of the 12 players Dallas has or soon expects to have under contract are guards. Talk about going small-ball. Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Jae Crowder fill the forward position and second-year center Bernard James, a low-minute player when he got off the bench, is the only big man in the middle.
That has to change, although how is the big question considering the Mavs’ cap situation. Dallas remains in pursuit of stop-gap veteran Samuel Dalembert (a sign-and-trade with Milwaukee could be an option) and they’ve been in discussions with their own hybrid forward-center Brandan Wright. Elton Brand also remains a possibility.
The agreement with Ellis seemed unlikely just a couple days ago when president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said he didn’t expect more backcourt additions. With all eyes focused on the depleted center position, Ellis did perk up a fan base wondering where the franchise was headed after missing out on Howard a week ago.
Ellis doesn’t turn the summer around for the Mavs, but he does bring with him some needed swag back to Big D. The roster had been virtually bare of playmaking electricity. He gives Dallas excitement, if not also unpredictability, and he’ll happily fill the role as the second — and sometimes lead scorer — the Mavs so desperately need next to Nowitzki.
The 6-foot-3 Ellis averaged 19.2 ppg and 6.0 apg sharing the backcourt in Milwaukee last season with Brandon Jennings. He shot just 41.6 percent overall and 28.7 percent from beyond the arc, but he can light it up on any given night and seemed to have a knack for fireworks when he played Dallas.
A rim protector must be on the way, though, or the Mavs’ defensive standing at No. 27 in scoring (101.7 ppg) last season could get worse. Ellis’ defensive efficiency last season benefited from the Bucks’ swat machine Larry Sanders. Ellis consistently ranks high in steals, but his overall defensive prowess is not considered a strong suit, and starting next to Calderon could cause coach Rick Carlisle to go completely bald.
The Mavs aren’t done massaging their roster. Friday at least provided a jolt and a little more intrigue for a proud franchise that was quickly looking lottery-bound for a second consecutive season.