While today’s news that Chris Hansen voluntarily raised his bid to buy the Kings again was slightly disconcerting, I am going to do exactly what the NBA did last time Hansen upped his bid and ignore it. Hansen and company are once again showing that their answer to any problem is to throw more money at it, and frankly, if it hasn’t worked so far, we have no reason to assume that it will suddenly make a difference. I’d like to focus on yesterday’s rumor that the Kings new ownership could be interested in Monta Ellis, if they are unable to retain Tyreke Evans.
First of all, isn’t it wonderful that the potential new owners would even look into a free agent capable of commanding and eight-figure salary? We’ve spent years trying to get excited about signing players like Chuck Hayes and Aaron Brooks. It’s exciting that someone like Ellis would even be on our radar. Having said that, few are convinced that Ellis would be a good fit in Sacramento. I will break down the arguments for and against a potential Monta Ellis signing below.
The argument for Monta Ellis:
Monta Ellis would be a big name signing for an ownership group looking to make a big splash, fill seats, and usher in a new era of Kings basketball. Ellis is popular in Northern California; Warriors fans booed their owner Joe Lacob for trading him to Milwaukee last year. Ellis is also a very entertaining player, who is capable of creating his own shot and closing out games. The Kings have not had a clear go-to guy with the game on the line in a long time, and Ellis could be that guy. He has enough confidence and swagger to compare himself to Dwyane Wade, and he is a veteran who could provide leadership qualities the team has been lacking. Ellis is also a good passer, as he averages 5.8 assists per 36 minutes (according to basketball—reference.com).
Another thing the Kings have struggled with in recent years is defining exactly what role players will take on. Tyreke has played point guard, small forward and shooting guard, and it remains unclear which one is the best fit for him. As a result, the Kings players often seem unsure of their role in the offense, the ball movement gets stagnant and players try to go one-on-one too often. Having Ellis instead of Tyreke Evans could help the Kings to solidify their rotations, with Isaiah Thomas playing point guard, Ellis as the clear cut two guard, plus Jason Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins in the frontcourt. Ellis and Cousins could form one of the best inside-outside scoring duos in the league.
The argument against Monta Ellis:
While Monta Ellis was suggested as a replacement for Tyreke Evans, I think the real reason not to sign him has more to do with Marcus Thornton. While Thornton’s production decreased this year, Tom Ziller over at Sactown Royalty did an excellent job of detailing why that has more to do with a decrease in playing time than any sort of decline in production. When you look at Ellis and Thornton’s per 36 minutes stats, they are almost identical in most categories. Ellis averaged 18.5 points per 36 minutes to Thornton’s 19.1, 3.7 rebounds per 36 minutes to Thornton’s 3.8, and shot 41.6% from the field to Thornton’s 42.9. The other statistics show that Thornton is a much better three-point shooter (37.2%) than Ellis (28.1%), and turns the ball over far less often than Ellis. Ellis dishes out significantly more assists than Thornton, but if the Kings are trying to define roles more clearly, then Isaiah Thomas should clearly be the distributor and whoever is playing shooting guard should be the scorer. The argument that a team would sign Ellis because of his assists average just doesn’t hold up. If the Kings pass on signing Evans and want to solidify their lineup, they could just start Marcus Thornton and use the money they would have spent on Ellis to go after a small forward, which remains the team’s biggest need.
Monta Ellis’ usage rate is also very high (26.23). The Kings don’t need another ball dominating backcourt player, at least as long as they have Marcus Thornton. Thornton’s contract is also much more reasonable than the one that Ellis would likely demand.
I don’t think that Monta Ellis is the right big name player for the Kings to go after this season, even if the team is unable to or declines to retain Tyreke Evans. When we look at the kinds of contracts that players like Eric Gordon and Nicolas Batum have received in restricted free agency, it remains a legitimate possibility that the Kings brass will decide not to match an offer for Tyreke Evans. If Tyreke leaves, the Kings should stick with the three man backcourt rotation of Marcus Thornton, Jimmer Fredette and Isaiah Thomas and look to spend the money that would have gone to Tyreke on a significant upgrade at small forward. Andre Iguodala, Kevin Martin and Trevor Ariza are intriguing, if unlikely, possibilities.
Given the thin free agent market, and the weak draft, the best course of action for the Kings, in my opinion, is to negotiate a fair, long-term deal with Tyreke Evans and commit to him as their starting shooting guard. The team should then look to trade Marcus Thornton, along with any other players another team might want, for a legitimate starting small forward.
Also, amnesty John Salmons.