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Ellis' game, role expands in Golden State

Marc J. Spears
Yahoo Sports
Ellis' game, role expands in Golden State
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Monta Ellis has averaged better than 28 points since the Warriors traded Stephen Jackson

Monta Ellis(notes) has weathered some turbulence this season. He and Golden State Warriors coach Don Nelson have bickered at times. His “big brother,” Stephen Jackson(notes), got his wish and was traded. And, yes, Golden State’s losses have continued to pile up, which should be frustrating for anyone with the team.

But for all the speculation that Ellis would be the next member of the Warriors to pack his bags and jet out of town – that he was actively seeking a change of address – the Warriors guard has this to say: If Golden State wants to make him the face of its franchise, he’s now happy to take on the role.

“If I get traded out of here it’s because they want me traded,” Ellis said. “No one ever heard me say out my mouth that I wanted to be traded. And if someone says they heard me say that, then they’re a liar. I’m good right now. I’m happy. I don’t have no complaints.

“Hopefully, we can turn this around and get some wins in here and then everybody would be cool. Once we start winning, you won’t hear nothing about Monta wanting to be traded. …But once you’re losing, they try to stir up little things and try to tear the whole thing apart.

“I’m cool. I’m here for the next four years. I’m a Golden State Warrior.”

Ellis would have preferred Jackson also remain a Warrior. Jackson announced during the summer that he was tired of Golden State’s losing and inability to land any veteran frontline help, and wanted to be traded. Ellis said he tried to convince Jackson that the team’s fortunes could change if they were patient – and if the Warriors, who have played with as few as six players this season, ever got healthy. Golden State eventually traded Jackson and guard Acie Law(notes) to the Charlotte Bobcats for Vladimir Radmanovic(notes) and Raja Bell(notes) on Nov. 16.

“I tried,” Ellis said. “He was to a point where he really didn’t have the patience for it no more. I can’t blame him. Once you’re fed up, you’re fed up and it’s time to move on. Once you got your mindset that you want to leave, there is really nothing a person can tell you to stay. I’m the type of person that says what I say. But at the end of the day it was his decision and I respect that and I’m going to live with it.”

Ellis looked like he might be the next player to leave after he and Nelson exchanged words during a Dec. 12 practice in New York. Sources say Nelson was upset because Ellis had waited until just before practice began to get his ankles taped. Ellis pointed out to Nelson that another player had done the same thing, but wasn’t reprimanded. Nelson, Ellis later learned, was angry because he had wanted him to lead by example in his new role.

Ellis and Nelson haven’t had any major issues since.

In truth, the Warriors expected some time to pass before Ellis, who is just 24, could truly establish himself as a leader. Jackson’s oversized personality made that process more difficult, and Ellis also admitted he needed to get in better game shape.

In the nine games before the trade, Ellis averaged 19.3 points, five assists, 1.7 steals in 36.6 minutes in nine games. In 12 games since the trade, his averages have climbed to 28.2 points, 5.5 assists and 2.9 steals in 43.3 minutes. Ellis has scored at least 30 points in six of the past nine games, including a career-high 45 against Indiana on Nov. 30.

Ellis also is averaging a league-high 4.6 turnovers, and has committed at least seven in five of the past nine games. But he’s been a workhorse for the undermanned Warriors, playing the full 48 minutes in four games over the past three weeks.

“He’s stepped forward,” Nelson said. “There were two ways he could’ve gone. He did the right thing and stepped up. He’s proven that he is the guy. It’s not Jax’s team, it’s his team. He’s leading in all the ways that you would hope a leader would do by his performance and in the locker room, too.

“He’s just been terrific. I’m really proud of him.”

While the Warriors are surprised, Ellis isn’t. “I’ve been putting up big numbers all my life,” he said. “If I get the opportunity or just get in a groove like the best players in this league, I can do the same exact thing.”

“He’s still underrated,” Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant(notes) said. “I know how good he is and all his peers know how good he is. But he’s not wind-milling and dunking over people, so he doesn’t get the credit he deserves.”

The Warriors are hoping Ellis can play well enough for the franchise to end its NBA-worst streak of 12 years without an All-Star. He didn’t rank among the West’s top 10 guards during the first ballot returns, and while the conference’s coaches could vote him onto the team as a reserve, he faces tough competition.

Ellis also doesn’t believe the Warriors’ losing record should be held against him after Indiana Pacers forward Danny Granger(notes) and New Jersey Nets guard Devin Harris(notes) were named to last season’s East All-Star team.

While Ellis might be the Warriors’ most popular player, he acknowledges most NBA fans don’t know much about his personality or his game. And if he’s ever going to become one of the league’s stars, he’s going to have to win.

“I’d rather win than just stand around saying I’m a face-of-the-franchise player,” Ellis said. “Being a franchise player, getting paid the most money and you’re losing, how do you gain from that?”


Bulls targeting Johnson?

Two NBA sources said the Chicago Bulls are emerging as one of the leading candidates to land Joe Johnson(notes) when the Atlanta Hawks guard becomes a free agent after the season.

Johnson, sources say, is intrigued about teaming up with Bulls point guard Derrick Rose(notes). Johnson’s agent, Arn Tellem, also is close to Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and the Bulls would love an elite perimeter shooting threat to make up for the loss of Ben Gordon(notes).

The New York Knicks have been mentioned as another possible suitor. Johnson played under Mike D’Antoni when he coached the Phoenix Suns. A source also said Johnson would have interest in returning to the Boston Celtics, who drafted him in 2001, but such a scenario is laughable unless there is a sign-and-trade because the Celtics won’t have salary-cap room.

The Atlanta Hawks, of course, can still offer Johnson the most money. While Johnson turned down a four-year, $60 million extension before the season, the Hawks can offer him up to six years in a deal. The Hawks also are an emerging Eastern Conference power and Johnson is the only player in their rotation that will be a free agent next summer.

“We had some great dialogue this summer,” Hawks GM Rick Sund said. “While there was the possibility of extending his contract, the rules are more favorable to be a free agent next summer. That’s the route he wanted to go. We are going to do everything to keep him.”


Carter still adjusting to Magic

Depending on how you look at it, Vince Carter(notes) is either having a great offensive season for the Magic or he needs to start passing the ball more to Dwight Howard(notes).

Carter is averaging a team-best 20.1 points on 17 shots per game while shooting 41.5 percent from the field. Howard is averaging 18.4 points on 9.6 shots per game (84th in the NBA) while shooting 64.3 percent (second in the league).

Carter is confident he will become a much more effective scorer for Orlando.

“I’m just not making them,” he said. “The shots are there. I’m not one to worry about that. Sometimes you’re going to take more shots than the other nights and you don’t make them all the time. That’s never frustrated me.

“I still stick with the same routine and same form. Even though I’ve had stretches like that, I’ve been there and I was able to shoot my way back to a good percentage so that doesn’t worry me.”


Garnett regaining old form

As November drew to a close, there was concern in Boston that Celtics forward Kevin Garnett(notes) wouldn’t ever be the same after having knee surgery to remove bone spurs. Garnett was averaging 14.1 points through November and had yet to regain his athleticism and strength. But in his first five games in December, he averaged 20.2 points on 67.2 percent shooting in a little under 31 minutes per game.

“He is just playing with more confidence,” Celtics president Danny Ainge said. “It seems like things are going a lot smoother. He’s playing better and moving better. He and [point guard Rajon] Rondo are also building a great chemistry.”

The Celtics are hopeful Marquis Daniels(notes), who just had surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb, will be back by February. In the meantime, Ainge doesn’t seem interested in making a band-aid move to help fill Daniels’ absence. The Celtics already have the maximum 15 players, and will use some combination of Tony Allen(notes), Brian Scalabrine(notes), J.R. Giddens(notes) and rookie Lester Hudson(notes) to compensate.

The Celtics also are hopeful that forward Glen Davis(notes) will return as early as their Dec. 27 game against the Los Angeles Clippers. They plan on having him back no later than the end of the month.


Scouts taking notice of Garcia

Eastern Washington guard Rodney Stuckey(notes) went from unknown to first-round pick for the Detroit Pistons two years ago. Now another relatively anonymous player from the Northwest, Charles Garcia of Seattle University, is attracting attention from NBA scouts.

Garcia is the NCAA’s fourth-leading scorer, averaging 25.7 points per game and 10.4 rebounds through nine games. The 6-foot-10, 230-pound junior forward scored a career-high 41 against Wofford and 24 in a win at Utah.

Close to 10 NBA scouts were on hand to see Garcia play against UC-Davis last week, and several told Yahoo! Sports they are now keeping close tabs on him. The former Riverside City College star worked on his guard skills before growing seven inches in high school. He originally committed to Washington, but couldn’t get eligible.

“He’s certainly the hot player of the moment,” one Western Conference scout said. “I highly doubt he was on anyone’s radar. He could be a first rounder. Everyone has to see him twice to see if he’s a true prospect. You’ll hear more about him as the season goes on. I’ve seen him once, and I want to see him again.

“He has the body and everything. No one realized he was that good.”


Tip-ins

One Western Conference scout said of Kentucky freshman guard John Wall, “He’s an absolute beast. He’s better than Derrick Rose at this point in college. He’s faster from end to end than any guard I’ve seen in a while.” … About a dozen NBA scouts, including Sacramento Kings president Geoff Petrie and Los Angeles Clippers assistant general manager Neil Olshey, scouted the Iowa State-Cal game last Saturday to watch Cyclones forward Craig Brackins. The 6-foot-10, 230-pounder scored 42 against Kansas last season and is on the Wooden Award Watch list. But several of the NBA scouts left disappointed. Brackins scored 21 points, but didn’t show much improvement from last season. “He needs to improve his rebounding and improve his range,” one NBA scout said. “He has a nice midrange game and he’s a good passer, but he needs to get more physical.” … Players who signed contracts during the offseason are eligible to be traded Tuesday. “That doesn’t mean teams want to trade players,” one Eastern Conference GM said. “It brings flexibility, but it’s not a magical day like the trade deadline. Most teams look toward to the trade deadline.” … The New Jersey Nets hope forward Yi Jianlian(notes) will finally be back in action next week against Utah.

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