He is arguably the most polarizing player in the history of the Dallas Mavericks.
Now, for the first time since he left the Mavs via free agency last summer, shooting guard Monta Ellis will face the team he worked for during the past two seasons.
Ellis signed a four-year, $44 million contract with the Indiana Pacers in July. Wednesday night, the Pacers and the Mavs meet for the first time since Ellis decided to opt out of the final year of his contract with Dallas so he could seek a multiyear contract elsewhere.
Once Ellis opted out, no way were the Mavs going to offer him a new contract so they could try to retain his services. Or were they?
“No, it wasn’t that at all,” owner Mark Cuban said. “It’s just that we tried to go after big [players] and young [players] and we kind of played our hand.
“But Monta is a good guy. I always got along great with him. I liked him more because the media hated him more.”
The Mavs replaced 30-year-old Ellis with Wesley Matthews, who is 377 days younger than Ellis.
Ellis spent the past two seasons with the Mavs and led them in scoring (18.9 points per game), steals (1.85) and minutes (33.7) last year. He also was the Mavs’ primary go-to guy, taking over a role held by perennial All-Star Dirk Nowitzki for over a decade.
But with the Pacers, Ellis has taken a virtual back seat to Paul George, who is fourth in the NBA in scoring with 26.5 points per game. Ellis is averaging 12.3 points and shooting only 42.7 percent from the field.
This is Ellis’ lowest scoring average and lowest shooting percentage since 2005-06, his rookie season with Golden State. He averaged 6.8 points and made only 41.5 percent of his field goals.
So what’s the stark difference in Ellis’ role with the Mavs and Pacers, and why is he viewed as just an afterthought in Indiana’s offense?
“I don’t see a big difference,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said after Tuesday’s practice. “He’s still playing a lot of minutes, he’s involved in a lot of late-game situations, he’s one of their go-to guys during the game and at the end of the game.
“They’ve got him playing some point guard, which we did his first year here when we didn’t have a lot of point guards. And so he’s causing the same problems.”
Ellis’ problems with the media are legendary. He’s one of the few players who doesn’t mind hitting the game-winning shot but doesn’t want to stick around and talk about it.
Ellis also was jealous of the three-year, $46 million free agent contract small forward Chandler Parsons signed with Dallas in the summer of 2014.
When he was asked about Ellis following the Mavs’ 104-94 win over Phoenix on Monday, Parsons quickly changed the subject.
“Paul George is playing really good this year, and they’re a good team,” he said. “They’re going to be right there in the thick of things in the East, so we can’t take them for granted.”
Cuban wasn’t surprised Ellis opted out of his contract while in search of a bigger payday. He was on target to collect $8.72 million this season had he opted into the final year of his contract with the Mavs.
“We had a bunch of conversations about it and we were both straight up with each other and it turned out the way it did,” Cuban said. “But Monta’s first class.
“He could get a shot any time he wanted it. Few guys were better at getting a good look for a game-winner with nothing left on the clock, and he did it for us several times.”
One of Ellis’ game-winners with Dallas came on Dec. 3, 2014, when his 18-footer at the buzzer led the Mavs to a 107-105 win over the Bucks in Milwaukee — another one of Ellis’ former teams.
“He’s shooting 38 percent [from 3-point range] the last five games, which is really good,” Carlisle said. “And I know all too well what he does to his former teams, because when he was with us those two years he killed Milwaukee and he had good games against Golden State.’’
Mavericks at Pacers
6 tonight, FSSW