The Dallas Mavericks were forewarned about Monta Ellis last summer while they were pursuing him via free agency.
Forewarned that the mercurial guard was a bit rough around the edges. That he had malcontent tendencies and could wreck their quaint locker room.
But the critics, the Mavs discovered, had it wrong. Ellis has been a model citizen since signing a three-year, $25 million contract with the Mavs last summer — with a bit of a caveat.
“I think it’s been a more demanding year than he’s ever had on any other team in terms of what we’ve asked him to do, in terms of conditioning, weight lifting, strength training,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We’ve got these guys doing yoga.
“He’s never been through all this stuff, and we’re coaching him hard on offense and on defense and he’s held the line.”
Ellis admits to the challenges thrown at him by Carlisle, but his version of the situation differs.
“To me, I think it’s just me growing as a person, really to sacrifice doing more things versus just doing one thing, and that’s score,” Ellis said. “Challenges? I mean, you’re going to have challenges in life.
“I just think I’ve grown up to be a better person and got back the love of basketball. With this great group of guys it makes my life so much easier.”
The Mavs (49-32) hope Ellis can help make their life easier again Wednesday at 7 p.m. when they battle the Memphis Grizzlies (49-32) at FedEx Forum. Wednesday’s winner will play Oklahoma City or the LA Clippers in the first round of the playoffs, while the loser will be matched against top-seeded San Antonio.
Ellis acknowledged some of the backlash from critics was warranted. However, he noted that being a part of the Mavs’ organization has changed his perspective on basketball.
“I had to grow up and accept some of the things that were going on around me that I can control, which is my attitude,” Ellis said. “Be more positive and put myself around positive people.”
While Ellis has had his share of critics since he entered the NBA as a second-round draft pick out of Lanier (Miss.) High School, he’s been a godsend for the Mavs and for Dirk Nowitzki in particular.
“He’s helping me out, giving me open shots, getting the guys open rolls to the basket,” Nowitzki said. “He’s been a great playmaker for us, not only shooting probably one of the best percentages of his career [and] creating for himself, but also making everybody else better.”
Ellis is averaging 19 points and 5.8 assists per game and is the only Dallas player who has played in all 81 games this season. He also is shooting 45.2 percent from the floor, his highest marksmanship since he converted 53.1 percent during the 2007-08 season.
Meanwhile, the 28-year old Ellis doesn’t know why the critics seem to doubt him, always questioning his motives, his shot selection.
“You’re going to have that anyway — that’s just part of life,” Ellis said. “Some people rise to the occasion, some people fold.
“I like that kind of press that they put out. It always wants to make me prove people wrong.”