DALLAS — After signing with the Dallas Mavericks as a free agent last offseason, guard Monta Ellis felt like a target was placed on his back when he joined the team during training camp.
Coming to Dallas after an unfulfilled 1 1/2 seasons in Milwaukee, Ellis looked to reward Mavericks owner Mark Cuban by recapturing the offensive success he displayed while spending his first 6 1/2 seasons with the Golden State Warriors. The cat-quick guard then looked to prove his doubters wrong, teaming with veteran point guard Jose Calderon to stabilize the Mavs’ backcourt while making life easier for 12-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki.
“Even with Mark getting criticized for signing me and being in the same backcourt with Jose, you know, a lot of guys took a lot of criticism with this team,” Ellis explained. “So, I think we put it on our back and proved everybody wrong. … Once you win everything else goes out the window. I don’t take anything personally. The only thing I do is go out there and do what I’ve been doing my whole career, but I’m on a better team. A lot of weapons are on this team, so I don’t have to go out and try to score 65 percent of the offense or do everything. Just use my teammates and go with the flow of the game.”
Finishing second to Nowitzki on the team while averaging 19.0 points per outing, Ellis played in all 82 games for the second straight season. He also stepped up his production when it mattered most, averaging 20.4 points as the Mavs pushed the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs to seven games in their first-round playoff series.
But, while modestly taking the attention off of himself this postseason, Ellis chose to focus on what the Mavericks were able to accomplish after bringing together nine new faces during training camp en route to a 49-33 season.
“I mean, we weathered the storm,” the nine-year veteran said. “Everybody counted us out from Day 1 to even get (into the playoffs). … It was a great experience. Everybody was on board, and I’m very proud of what we did and what we overcame. We came together as a team and took the best team in the NBA to a dogfight all the way to the end. We had a great year. We’ve just got to take some time off and try to game plan to see what we’re going to do for next year. I think, you know, if we keep this team together, we’re going to make a lot of noise next year.”
Playing through a bevy of nagging injuries to suit up in every game this season, the 28-year-old Ellis not only served as one of the Mavs’ go-to scorers but also as an emotional leader. He made several alterations to his own game as well, according to Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, sacrificing to help the team return to the playoffs after the franchise’s stretch of 12 consecutive postseason berths came to an end following a 41-41 campaign the year prior.
“Monta made great strides and we threw a lot at him,” Carlisle said. “You know, from the standpoint of conditioning and a different approach defensively, a lot of things, and it was more than he’s ever had to absorb. But he’s the only guy on the team that played 82 games. He played hurt, and I would even say that he played injured in those three games before the All-Star break. I couldn’t believe he played in those games, but him playing helped us win two of those three. And ultimately, if he hadn’t played, you know, we may not have gotten over the hump to get to the playoffs. You know, he did a lot of things that were intangible and that were important, and at 28 years old he’s got a lot of great years left. He’s really just entering his prime, and there’s some things that we can do to help him get even better.”
However, what more can Ellis do to help the Mavericks reach their ultimate goal of bringing a title back to Dallas?
Providing the Mavs with a true second option on the offensive end of the floor, Ellis also often operated as the lead facilitator while dishing out a team-best 5.7 assists a game during the regular season. But it’s as a scorer that Ellis thrived most while averaging at least 19 points for the seventh straight season.
Taking over with 12 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter of Dallas’ 113-111 Game 6 win to force a decisive seventh contest against the Spurs, Ellis showed that he is ready to take the lead role for the Mavs in future seasons. Still, after leaning on Nowitzki’s broad shoulders for stretches, Ellis says he’s a willing sidekick as the Mavericks try to build on the momentum of this season going forward.
“This is still Dirk’s team,” Ellis proudly proclaimed. “I think him just being on the floor still makes us better, even when he’s not knocking shots down, ’cause teams still respect him. He’s still a threat on the floor, so it really still opens up a lot. And even if his shot is not going down, he’s still a big part of us winning and making shots and creating the space that we need to make plays for ourselves.”