DALLAS — Sometimes timing is everything. Take the family reunion Monta Ellis will attend next month in Dallas, an event planned well before the missile from Mississippi signed a three-year, $25 million contract with the Mavericks.
“I have a lot of people in Houston, a lot of people in Dallas,” Ellis said Thursday after he and the latest crop of Mavs free agents finally gathered for official introductions. “They didn’t know I was going to sign here, but it’s a good thing to already be here, be settled in.”
Is it a sign that Dallas is where Ellis belonged all along? Or merely a coincidence? Having family close can certainly help bring a measure of comfort and happiness. And happiness is something Ellis says he’s been missing the last couple years and, he says, it’s shown in his sliding shooting percentages.
“When you’re in a place where you’re unhappy, it’s very hard for you to perform to your best ability,” said Ellis, the American Airlines Center lights twinkling off the oversized diamond studs in each ear. “So, I mean, with this new beginning, new fresh start, you know, better organization, you know, better teammates, they’re going to make things a lot more better.”
Better organization? Better teammates? Ellis electing to leave $11 million on the table for next season told the Bucks how he felt about his 103-game run there. Asked to elaborate on what went so wrong, Ellis, who didn’t reap what he envisioned when he hit the open market as a free agent, just said, “I left that in Milwaukee.”
The Mavs, having flipped their roster for a second consecutive summer other than Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter, Brandan Wright and Shawn Marion, nabbed Ellis, and quite surprisingly so, late in free agency and after already stocking up on guards. After whiffing on Dwight Howard, a second superstar setback after missing on Deron Williams the previous summer, the Mavs viewed Ellis as the best remaining scoring option to pair with Nowitzki, and he instantly became the jewel of their seven-player free-agent class that might otherwise have been flashy Isreali point guard Gal Mekel.
So maybe timing is everything. The Mavs are desperate for fireworks and Ellis is desperately seeking a happy place to revive his career. Not that Ellis has been anything close to a hyper-efficient scorer, but if he can give the Mavs 2010-11 numbers — 45.1 percent overall and a career-best 36.1 from 3-point range — they’ll be thrilled.
“I don’t really have to shoot the ball as much on this team,” Ellis said. “The previous team I been on, like I said once before, I had to do 60 percent of the work no matter what the situation is. I think with this team here, I don’t have to do as much or take as many shots because sometimes they’re going to stop me and Dirk is going to be open, Jose [Calderon], Devin [Harris], the list goes on and. So I don’t think I have to do as much as I had to do in the previous years.
“So that’s going to get me back to being efficient, that’s going to get me back to being more consistent and it’s going to get me back to playing Monta basketball.”
The Mavs told Ellis he can get there on a team that they believe puts talent around him like he’s never known, starting with double-team magnet Nowitzki, and with a pass-first point guard in heady veteran Jose Calderon, who will free up Ellis to be a dynamic scorer, penetrating at will and popping inevitably open jumpers, without the burden of also having to run the offense.
But what they’re really selling Ellis on, and what they believe Ellis truly desires, is stability at the top. While he’s played for just two franchises in his eight seasons, Ellis has played under eight head and interim coaches. Last season Scott Skiles was fired and replaced by assistant Jim Boylan, who was replaced this summer by former Hawks coach Larry Drew.
“I think Monta really knows that we have stability here with Rick [Carlisle] and he wants to commit to a coach that he can trust, and Rick’s that coach, so I think it will be a great relationship,” owner Mark Cuban said. “Rick’s a great teacher and Monta’s a willing student.
A year ago, the same was said of O.J. Mayo following his disappointing time in Memphis. Mayo wanted to hand his game over to the respected Carlisle and Carlisle — now heading into his sixth season in Dallas — wanted to teach him how to become an all-around player. But it never clicked and Mayo has taken Ellis’ old spot with the Bucks at a rather startling $24 million over three seasons.
So maybe this timing is good. Maybe Ellis, 28 in October, is ready to settle into a team concept, to dispel theories that he’ll never be more than a volume shooter and a highly inefficient scorer. Asked if people are undervaluing him or underestimating him by emphasizing his sliding shooting percentages of the past two seasons, Ellis took about 15 seconds before offering an answer.
“I’m gonna say not really,” he said. “You’re going to have people who are going to say what they’re going to say anyway. I don’t think so. I’m fortunate, blessed to have a job and still be doing what I love doing. Like I said, there’s going to be things people say that you have no control over so I don’t think it is. I just think people have an opinion, they like to state their opinion and that’s what it is.”
The final answer begins Oct. 30 against the Atlanta Hawks.