In one of our comment threads Frank Madden from Brewhoop, our network's Milwaukee Bucks site, brought up an interesting idea. How hotly would the Portland Trail Blazers pursue Monta Ellis if the price were reasonable? I'm not sure the price Frank is naming will be reasonable to all, but here's his setup and my response.
Brewhoop: I'll start off by saying the Bucks are probably less interested in dealing Monta Ellis than I am. John Hammond and Scott Skiles are both in the last years of their contracts and Herb Kohl continues to put making the playoffs as the franchise's number one priority. It's not just shortsightedness either. After 20 years of mediocrity, the Bucks are struggling to keep fans interested, an especially problematic situation for a franchise that needs a new arena in the not-too-long-term. Plenty of hardcore fans have pined for a complete tear-down, but at this point the Bucks probably don't have time to stink for a couple years, maybe land a franchise player, and then take another couple seasons to build...something.
So bottom line: the Bucks want to win games and they seem to think Ellis can help them do that. Ellis struggled with his shot after he arrived but he meshed pretty well with Brandon Jennings, so it's plausible the pairing helps the Bucks bounce back in 12/13. But even if they do, Ellis can opt out of the final year of his contract next summer, which means that the Bucks--or whoever he ends up with--will likely need to re-sign him a year from now. Whether the Bucks can afford that really depends on what happens to Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova. The latter will probably need upwards of $8 million per season to remain a Buck this summer, while the former is now eligible for an extension and would be a restricted free agent a year from now. At the end of the day, can the Bucks really afford to sink $22-25 million into a Jennings/Ellis pairing? I'd say no, and I'd argue another high draft pick would be the ideal payback for a young Bucks roster in need of lottery tickets. Moreover, I'd argue that Jennings-while hardly untouchable himself-is the more attractive player for Milwaukee to hang onto. Compared to Ellis, Jennings is five years younger and similarly productive, while also playing a more well-defined position and not being eligible for unrestricted free agency until 2014. We could debate his trade value to the Blazers and Bucks, but that's a separate long-winded conversation.
Given what we know about Ellis, the Blazers are probably the best trading partners in the lottery. Unlike many teams picking early on June 28, Portland seems intent on getting back to the playoffs sooner rather than later, the Blazers don't have an established guard(s) who would clash with Ellis, and having multiple picks means Portland doesn't necessarily have to choose between adding a veteran and a young player.
I can't answer whether Chad Buchanan actually likes Ellis as a player, but on paper you could make a good case for parlaying one of the Blazers' lottery picks into a 26-year-old guard who has regularly delivered 20+ ppg and 6 apg (at this juncture I'll conveniently ignore Ellis' less impressive advanced stats). On the flip side, the Bucks will need to get enough back to feel as though they haven't compromised their own win-now ambitions. Personally, I'd be happy with either of the Blazers' lottery picks, but my guess is that the Bucks would want more, especially after spending the past few months pumping up Ellis' value.
That's where Wes Matthews could make for an interesting piece. I've read about Buchanan playing up Matthews' value as a leader of the young Blazers, and it's not as though Matthews' contract is a major albatross given the Blazers' cap situation. Still, he's hardly a bargain for a role-playing starter or sixth man, so presumably the Blazers would be willing to deal him. That could be extremely important in a deal for Ellis, since the Bucks could use Matthews both to plug Ellis' hole on the wing while also being able to sell the former Marquette star to Milwaukee fans. Moreover, Matthews' shooting and defensive willingness would both fill a need and seem to suit Scott Skiles' druthers. Throw in a lottery pick--I'd love the #6 but I'll take #11--and it's a solid haul for the Bucks.
Blazersedge: This deal would be intriguing from the Blazers point of view.
Let's start out by admitting that Ellis isn't the ideal guard for the Blazers. He doesn't shoot the three well, his defense is poor, and you always get scared when a player's Usage Percentage approaches his tax bracket. Ellis has performed like a star at times, but he has an asterisk or two attached to even his best years.
On the other hand, Portland's goal is to rebuild quickly around LaMarcus Aldridge. They want talent now. If their plan involves a quick turn-around they can't afford to be snobs, nor subtle. 20 points, 6 assists isn't subtle, especially the way Ellis applies it. Without a dominant point guard the Blazers can afford to give him touches. As long as he can make room for Aldridge in the offense and occasionally kick to Nicolas Batum on the weak side, Ellis would have all the offensive space he needs to prosper.
The price you've named is not excessive for a 20ppg guy in the backcourt, even one with Ellis' faults. The 11th pick won't yield that kind of player. The Blazers lose a defensive guard and distance shooter in Wesley Matthews, but he's more like a smart piece for a deep playoff team than a foundational piece for a rebuilding one.
Including Matthews also provides the clincher: a relatively small salary cap imprint. Ellis makes $11 million per year through 2014 with an opt-out in the summer of 2013. Matthews makes between $6.5 and $7.2 million through 2015. Count in the $1.7 million owed to the 11th pick in the draft this year and the Blazers are taking on less than $3 million in extra cap burden with Ellis than they do with Matthews and that pick. They'd still have between $9 and $14 million in cap space to play with this summer, depending on their strategy for re-signing players. The concern would be Ellis opting out early, but given the freedom he'd have in Portland plus the money Paul Allen could throw at him, chances are he'd stay (for better or worse).
I don't believe the Blazers would trade the 6th pick for Ellis. I don't believe it's a no-brainer with the 11th and Matthews either. But boy, the Blazers would sure have to think about the possibility. It's not a championship move, but it hits the Blazers where they live right now.
So what say you? Would you find this deal intriguing? How would Ellis fit in Portland right now? Could you see any moves around him that would make the move more palatable? Weigh in below and check out Brewhoop for more of the Milwaukee perspective.