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Should We Want Monta?

Almost immediately following the Stephen Jackson trade, word broke out in Oakland that another Warrior was being shopped, Monta Ellis. Jackson was a dynamic player, saddled with a bad contract and inflated offensive numbers that hold up much better when you're glancing at a box score, but wilt in a spreadsheet. Ellis is an entirely different story.

Let's table whether the Sixers could put together a package that would entice GSW enough to pull the trigger for a second and examine what should be the first question you have an affirmative answer for before even considering a trade. Would he help the Sixers?

Since I first read the rumor this afternoon, I've been trying to come up with a definitive answer to that question, the closest I've come is "I think so." Not exactly a ringing endorsement. My reticence doesn't stem from Ellis' record, quite the contrary. His stats are sick. He's what you could call a one-man-wrecking crew from the two guard. In his last full season, he shot 53.1% from the floor. A shooting guard, shooting over 50% is just ridiculous. While Baron Davis was jacking threes left and right and the rest of the Warriors were picking up table scraps, Ellis was carving up defenders.

He's a good rebounder, a decent creator for his teammates, he gets to the line. The two things he doesn't do particularly well are shoot threes (he rarely takes them, and he's a career 29.6% shooter from downtown) and turns the ball over too much (13.3% TOV rate for his career). Defensively, the advanced stats say he's done a good job covering two guards, not so much when he's on the ball.

My problem isn't even with his carping to the press (I tend to believe him when he says Nellie has been yanking his chain ever since Baron left), nor his mo-ped accident. His contract is fairly reasonable, considering his production and age (he's owed $11M/year for the next three seasons, with no yearly increases).

So what's my problem? I just laid out a pretty convincing argument for the type of player Ellis is, and it sure seems like he'd help just about any team, right? Why wouldn't he help the Sixers? Well, that's the issue for me. I have no idea what the hell the team needs. The only type of player Jordan seems to be able to utilize is a big who can step out and hit a jumper.

Would a slasher like Ellis thrive or would he be suffocated by the dribble-handoffs 30 feet away from the hoop? Is he exactly the type of player who could use the wrinkles in the defense and back-cuts to get to the rim where he's truly an elite finisher for a guard? I have no idea.

The only thing I'm absolutely sure of right now is that the Sixers would have absolutely no use whatsoever for a defensive stopper with a limited offensive game. At this point, the question becomes what do you hope for? Do you bang your head against the wall and wish for the pieces to be put in place to become an elite defensive team, or do you give in? Do you face the reality that Jordan is going to be here for a while and hope they put the players in place who will be able out-gun opponents by running the Princeton offense properly?

I'm completely baffled. I never believed you could build a championship-caliber team on offense alone. I still don't believe you can completely ignore defensive rebounding and expect to be anything more than a low seed in the playoffs, wracking up wins against weaker teams. It's almost beyond me to have to start looking at potential deals through this lens. But still, I think we have to try at this point. What's the alternative, bury our heads in the sand, and either (a) wait until Jordan's tenure is over and hope some semblance of the core remains intact or (b) hope the focus can shift, at least somewhat, to defense and playing the type of basketball that can win in the playoffs.

After putting e-pen to e-paper, I think it doesn't matter in this case. No matter which way you slice it, Ellis is talented enough to make a difference for the Sixers. Which brings us to the second part of the equation: Who would you be willing to trade for him, what kind of a package would the Warriors be willing to take and what position would he play if you got him?

The last part is easy to answer, he's a shooting guard, he's not a PG. If you're going to get him, he's got to play the two. That makes the first question and second questions a little easier to answer as well. Thad is probably the price you're going to have to pay. Originally, I thought the question would be are the Sixers better off with Thad at the three and Iguodala at the two, or Iguodala at the three and Ellis at the two. Upon further review, I don't think that's the critical question at all. We aren't headed in that direction anymore, Jordan is taking us off course. Sooner or later, Thad is going to be the power forward Eddie Jordan believes he needs to run the PO, a guy who can stretch the floor.

The question we need to answer is whether the Sixers are better off with Thad at the four and Iguodala at the two/three, or Iguodala at the three and Ellis and the two. I can answer emphatically that they'd be better off with the latter, simply because the former is a terrible, terrible idea on so many different levels.

It's never easy to part ways with a kid as talented as Thad. Given the opportunity, I do believe Thad and Iguodala could blossom into one of the most dynamic wing duos in the league, on both ends of the floor (could being the operative word). But if that combo isn't going to be given a chance, if it's going to be scrapped anyway and Thad's going to develop into a light-rebounding perimeter four, well, that lowers his ceiling considerably in my eyes

Ellis is two-and-a-half years older than Thad, he doesn't help solve the Sixers perimeter shooting or defensive woes all that much, but he does represent the best case scenario of what we can hope for from Thad at the four. A guy who will score efficiently and can carry the team on the offensive end for spurts. I'd much rather have that type of player in his natural position, with good rebounding numbers from the position to boot, than have an under-sized PF who you need to have on the floor, no matter what damage he's doing on the glass or the defensive end. You can hide Ellis' shortcomings to keep him on the floor, you can't hide Thad's deficiencies at the four, not for an entire game, and not during crunch time against good teams (see games 2-6 of last year's first round for numerous examples).

The Sixers could send salaries of between $8.8M and $13.75M to Golden State to make a deal for Ellis work under the cap. Thad's cap number is $2.1M, so obviously, the Sixers would have to add at least one more piece to the deal.

If you're thinking of sending Thad and Sammy for Ellis alone, the numbers don't match up when you factor in Sammy's trade kicker. You'd wind up with somewhere around $17M going to Golden State, and they'd have to kick in another $3M or so for it to work.

Obviously, you'd love to give Golden State Willie Green, and Green would come off their books a full two seasons before Ellis, so it would create cap space. Green plus Thad would equal $5.8M, so you'd still have to add more into the deal. Perhaps Thad, Willie and Lou would get the job done. Lou could thrive in Golden State's free-form offense. Those three contracts equal roughly $10.7M, so you could do a three-for one deal, or you could take back one of Golden State's lesser contracts in return, either an injured guy, like Brandon Wright, a complete scrub, like Mikki Moore, or maybe you get some value in a guy like C.J. Watson (Watson is playing under a qualifying offer, so he'd have to OK any trade).

The question of whether or not Golden State would go for a package like this isn't easy to answer. I'm going to assume they'll be looking for more, either more talent, or better (shorter) contracts. We're going to have to see how the market plays out. I will say this, though, the following lineup could be scary a year or two down the road, if Golden State did pull the trigger:

PG: Curry
SG: Morrow
SF: Thad
PF: Anthony Randolph
C: Biedrins
6TH MAN: Lou Williams

The Sixers lineup next season could be:

PG: Holiday
SG: Ellis
SF: Iguodala
PF: Brand
C: Speights (or Sam, if he's still here)

Thoughts in the comments, as usual. We actually have a game tonight, expect the preview later this afternoon.
by Brian on Nov 18 2009
Tags: Basketball | Monta Ellis | Sixers | Trade Rumors |