MONTA ELLIS ARTICLE FROM TODAY’S PAPER.
By Marcus Thompson II
Perhaps no one is in a better position to evaluate Warriors guard Monta Ellis than teammate Andris Biedrins. He has seen Ellis at every stage of his career and seen him mature from a rookie who hardly spoke to the boisterous presence he is now.
Biedrins is amazed by the difference.
“He’s been changed,” Biedrins said. “He’s totally different. He’s happy about the team. He’s really stepped it up. I’m really happy about him. It’s just a joy to be his teammate.”
Is this really Monta Ellis, the same disgruntled player from last season who was the subject of monthly trade rumors and closed-door meetings with management?
Ellis insists his demeanor is no big deal, even if it’s obvious how big a deal it really is.
For the first time since he can remember, Ellis is at ease. For the first time in his NBA career he has nothing to worry about, no reason to complain, no drama robbing his attention.
Ellis is at peace. On the court and off.
“It’s a new beginning,” he said. “It’s a new feel. A new vibe. Back to having fun.”
Perhaps most of the credit goes to his wife, Juanika, whom Ellis married in July.
When Ellis met Juanika, in her hometown of Memphis, Tenn., in 2006, he knew something was different about her. They argued, Ellis said. First time, second time, third time.
Juanika is a Memphis police officer who is six years older than Ellis, who turns 25 later this month. She didn’t go along with whatever Ellis said and had no problem “putting me in my place when I needed to be put into place,” he said.
She told Ellis he was wrong for saying he couldn’t play with point guard Stephen Curry and advised him to apologize. She implored Ellis to let go of his beef with the organization, that he was only hurting himself by carrying that weight.
“She has been so good for him,” assistant coach Stephen Silas said.
Ellis admitted it took a while for him buy in. Eventually, he did.
“It’s always good to have that person, that better half, to keep you grounded,” Ellis said. “It’s great to have that someone you can sit down and have that comfort with. All that partying and stuff, I did that. It wasn’t successful for me. I just go home to a peaceful house. It’s just lovely right now.”
Ellis’ situation with the Warriors is another factor. Golden State has acquired players he seems to believe in. Ellis said the group feels like a team again, as it did when his teammates included Stephen Jackson, Baron Davis and Al Harrington. Ellis no longer feels as though he has to carry the franchise.
Several members in the organization quietly contend that coach Don Nelson’s departure has helped. It’s no secret the two clashed over the years, but Ellis doesn’t say he’s happy Nelson is gone, and he praised his former coach. But he’s also happy about the hiring of assistant Keith Smart.
“Coach, he’s involved a lot,” Ellis said. “He keeps it live. That’s what we need.”
Some soul searching also contributed to Ellis’ transformation.
Watching the Warriors’ transactions over the summer, hearing from assistant coaches about what’s needed from him, Ellis came to the conclusion that he had failed as a leader.
Not setting the tone for practice. Not going full speed. Keeping to himself. All that, he concluded, had to stop.
He came to camp early for the first time. Before that, he worked out with Silas and strength and conditioning coach John Murray. He studied film, including a DVD that Smart made of Ellis’ play, both good and bad.
That spirit has carried into camp.
“The first thing you notice is his work ethic,” Smart said. “He’s staying after practice, shooting with coaches. He hits the floor and he starts playing hard. He’s very vocal now. And he’s talking, and he’s saying the right things on the floor. He’s not getting to the point where things are frustrating him to where he’s upset.”
To understand the peace Ellis feels now is to understand the turmoil it replaced. Making it to the NBA was supposed to relieve the stress for a young man who grew up impoverished, whose father was absent, and who watched his older brother succumb to the ‘hood.
But Ellis’ NBA career didn’t start the way Ellis envisioned; he was drafted in the second round out of Lanier High in Mississippi when he thought he would be a first-round pick. Instead of getting the contract that would’ve been guaranteed a first-round pick, Ellis found himself riding the bench for the first time in his life as a rookie in 2005-06.
He clashed with then-coach Mike Montgomery and played garbage-time minutes. Not until an injury to guard Jason Richardson did Ellis begin getting consistent time on the court.
His career then began to take off the following season. Don Nelson became the Warriors’ coach, and Ellis averaged 16.5 points and 34.1 minutes per game.
Ellis’ breakout year came in 2007-08, when he averaged 20.2 points per game and was named the NBA’s most improved player. In July 2008, he signed a six-year, $66 million contract, making him the team’s highest-paid player.
Then came a moped ride.
Ellis insists he took an innocent, low-risk ride to the park, the same easy journey he’d made previously. But the “freak accident” he had in August 2008 resulted in a left ankle injury severe enough to require surgery.
It sidelined Ellis for six months and cost him $3 million when the Warriors suspended him for 30 games for violating a policy in NBA player contracts that prohibits such activities. Then the team waited until the following April to announce it wouldn’t void his contract.
Ellis said he became bitter, feeling that management tried to punish him twice. That’s why, when the Warriors traded Jackson last November and anointed Ellis their leader, he resisted.
“I’m not going to do more,” Ellis said at the time. “Somebody else is going to have to step up and take on the role that Jack had and be that player. But I’m not putting no more extra on my back.”
Now, Ellis is bubbling, convinced that his peace will last.
He has a head coach with whom he’s bonded and teammates with whom he’s willing to share the load.
At home, he has Juanika and 15-month-old son Monta Jr.
“He’s too big to be holding now,” Ellis said with a smile. “I put that big joker on the ground, let him run around.”