In his most candid interview since he joined the Dallas Mavericks as a free agent last summer, guard Monta Ellis said this is the first season he’s been totally happy playing basketball since 2007.
Ellis was drafted by the Golden State Warriors right out of Lanier High School in Jackson, Miss., in the second round of the 2005 NBA Draft and was known as a flamboyant gunslinger. But he said that after the Warriors made the playoffs in his second season, he began to lose his passion for the game after management started parting ways with some of their key players.
The Warriors eventually traded Ellis to the Milwaukee Bucks in 2012. But Ellis didn’t get his joy back until he signed a three-year, $25 million contract with the Mavs.
“I have grown a lot, meaning I cherish my great years that I had over at Golden State,” Ellis said after Monday’s practice at American Airlines Center. “The bad [years] that I had — it took me so far into a deep hole that at some point basketball — it wasn’t even basketball to me. It was more of a business.
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“But being away and coming here really brought joy back to me to want to enjoy the game and love to be in the gym and work and want to get better.”
A player who guards his privacy, Ellis revealed why he turned down a lucrative two-year, $24.8 million contract extension offered by the Bucks prior to last season. That would have given Ellis a three-year contract worth $35.8 million, meaning he walked away from $10.8 million to sign with the Mavs instead.
“I left that money on the table because I’m blessed to have made the money I done made and to save the money I done saved,” Ellis said. “It’s not even about the money.
“One thing about me is if I wasn’t getting paid to play basketball, I’d still be playing basketball. I don’t do it for the money. I do it for the love, the joy and for the win.”
And since Ellis couldn’t see any blueprints the Bucks had for winning, he didn’t want to stick around Milwaukee.
“Milwaukee wasn’t like — I didn’t know what they wanted to do,” said Ellis, aware that the Bucks have the NBA’s worst record at 13-50. “And this season tells it all: that I made the right decision to leave that money on the table to come over here to be in a winning organization and be happy.”
Coach Rick Carlisle has no qualms with what Ellis has been able to contribute to his team. Ellis averages 18.9 points and team highs of 5.8 assists and 36.6 minutes per game.
“He’s been a godsend for us,” Carlisle said. “He fits what we’re doing. He fits with Dirk [Nowitzki]; he’s been extremely coachable; he’s our leader-in-minutes guy. So in many ways, you can say he’s as important of a guy that we have on this team.
Ellis admits to being immature at times while with the Warriors. But he knew the fans — some of the same ones he’ll see at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday when the Mavs face the Warriors at Oracle Arena in Oakland — always had his back.
Ellis even has matured to the point where he has no ill will toward Golden State for shipping him to the Bucks in a deal that essentially landed the Warriors center Andrew Bogut.
“It’s worked out for them,” Ellis said. “I always wished them the best, but it happens like that.
“I knew it was coming, and I think it was best for both of us. Those days are behind me. I feel good, and I’m glad I’m in a happy place.”