OAKLAND, Calif. -- The chair is nothing special.
Metal framework. Thin cushion for the back and butt. It's a glorified bar stool, really.
But as Golden State guard Monta Ellis sits and talks from that very piece of furniture on a recent day on the Warriors practice facility floor, you'd swear it was a therapist's couch.
He's ready to let it all out, to open up about the good (say hello to Mrs. Ellis and little Monta Jr.), the bad (mea culpa, Stephen Curry), and even the ugly (see moped accident, circa summer 2008).
Yet the fact that he's here at all right now is a good place to begin. Ellis has never shown up this early to prepare for training camp, typically squeezing in more time in his home state of Mississippi before arriving just a few days before it all begins again.
But there he was at the team's facility for the first time on Sept. 7. Ball in hand. Plan in mind. Positivity pouring out of his tattoo-covered pores.
It's time to get this new start started, Ellis says with a most-content tone, for him and his teammates to do far better than the 55 combined wins they've mustered in the last two seasons. The 24-year-old is in a reflective mood, and he's looking at his own reflection like never before.
"It starts with me, so I wanted to come back a month before training camp and get real close with my new teammates, to have that bond and make this whole thing as one and try to win," Ellis told FanHouse in a 30-minute, sit-down interview this week. "It's a new beginning. That's how I look at it. I've wiped everything else away from the past. We have a new logo, a new team. We'll just move forward, and it starts with me."
It started with him before too, just not in the way the organization had hoped.
September 2008 was just one month into moped-gate, that most-bizarre tale of injury and ill-fated fibs that created quite a chasm between the the newly deemed franchise player and his team. Ellis severed the deltoid ligament of his left ankle in an accident in Jackson, Miss., that he originally said was suffered in a pickup game. He would eventually admit he was riding a wannabe motorcycle when he was hurt, a clear violation of the six-year, $67 million contract he had signed just weeks before. Team president Robert Rowell and owner Chris Cohan took the hard line with Ellis, suspending him without pay for 30 games (lump sum: $3 million) while he rehabilitated from surgery and going against the more forgiving wishes of coach Don Nelson and then-executive Chris Mullin.
Last September was uneventful until the end of the month, when the Sept. 28 media day became nothing short of a public relations disaster for the Warriors. With optimism building among the team's fans after the drafting of then-Davidson guard Stephen Curry, Ellis let his feelings known to the media that the Warriors simply couldn't win if the two smallish guards were the backcourt of their future. It set the wrong kind of tone and sparked rumblings that still persist about whether it was a self-fulfilling prophecy that could lead to Ellis being traded.
It's starting with him in a whole different way this time, though. Ellis is examining himself and his actions in ways he says he never has, trying to forge his own new beginning just as the organization is set to change ownership next month and his future with the team remains in doubt.
Ellis ignores trade rumors unless they come from his agent (he hasn't heard any lately) and is employing the safest mental approach there is when it comes to worrying how his bosses view him: "I'm paid to play basketball," he says. He has grown to be appreciative of Curry instead of apprehensive, a development that even he admits was too slow to unfold. He points to a rock-solid personal life as the reason for his newfound maturity.
That's the short version of his What-I-Did-This-Summer report. But he'll go on and on about that last topic, as Ellis is eager to share how fatherhood has changed him and how the woman in his life deserves so much of the credit for his personal growth.
His son, Monta Jr., is 15 months old now, a walking, talking boy full of joy who simply won't let him lose this big-picture perspective. It's his new wife, Juanika Ellis, who he credits as his unofficial life counselor. She tells him what he needs to hear, even if it's not what he wants to hear. And she's been doing it, Ellis said, for most of the four years that they have been together -- including the day after media day 2009.
"She told me as soon as I said it that it was wrong," Ellis said of the Curry comments. "I didn't let her know at the time that she was right, but she always told me, 'You and Steph can do it. Y'all can do it. Just play together and don't let the outside world destroy y'all because you can win if they put pieces around you.'"
Ellis -- who is owed $44 million over the final four seasons of his contract and averaged a team and career-high 25.5 points-per-game in 2009-10 -- was slow to agree with her. He says now that he didn't come to that realization until mid-March, when lingering back soreness and a bout with the flu forced him to miss 16 of the final 32 games and gave him ample time for introspection.
"A month before the season was over with, I really had to sit back and blame myself in a sense because I'm that leader; I'm that one who everybody feeds off of," Ellis said. "Everything that went on last year (regarding Curry) shouldn't have gone on. I blame myself."
Ellis said he made amends with Curry this summer, attempting to clear up whatever residue remained from their inauspicious start. Curry has certainly met him halfway in attempt to fix the relationship that so many saw as broken, even attending Ellis' wedding in late July when the only other current teammate present was Devean George.
"When I made that comment, I wasn't knocking him," Ellis said. "I wasn't bashing him. It was based off of what me and the Warriors were going through at the time. It had nothing to do with him.
"Like I told him this summer, we can do it. We did it last year. I see now that I have to play the two (shooting guard). I have to play the bigger guards, and I'm cool with that. I can do that. Let's just put our games together, get everybody else around us on the same page and play basketball."
The moped accident drastically changed the relationship between Ellis and the Warriors, taking the sheen off their new partnership just as they joined forces for the long haul. The saga had hardly ended with Ellis' return from surgery, as he struggled for much of that season and reportedly fumed when the Warriors were "hanging the (possibility of) contract termination over his head" late into the season, as Marcus Thompson of the Contra Costa Times reported then.
But Ellis swears the tension has long since left, that the hard feelings that once had him reportedly looking for a way out are no more.
"Last year, it wasn't to a point where it was like, 'Man, I hate this; I want to leave; I want to go somewhere else," Ellis said. "It was never like that. It was like a father and son disagreement. (The father) says, 'You shouldn't have done that,' and then the son always says, 'Well I think ... .' Eventually both of them are going to let it pass over and get back together."
Old news or not, Ellis -- who had previously kept his comments far more formal on the subject -- wanted to clear up the misconception he believes exists regarding his mistake.
"There is one thing I want to clear up with everybody," he began intently. "It wasn't like I just went out and got a moped just to be getting a moped. I don't ride mopeds anymore but I'd been riding them all my life, and it wasn't like I was doing stunts on it.
Nor did he ever, Ellis insists.
"The funny thing is that I'm scared of motorcycles, and a moped is just like a motorcycle so I don't play around with that," Ellis continued while swerving his hands to re-enact what happened with the moped's wheels. "I was just riding and slowing down to go into the park, and it just lost its wheels. That's all that happened. It was just a freak accident that happened.
"It was me, three of my cousins and two of my homeboys just going to the park. (When he fell), I was like, 'Wow, why me? At this point? I've been doing so good, been injury-free. I just signed my big deal, and there's nothing more I can ask for, and then this happens?"
The biggest of Ellis' chest tattoos is hard to miss even with his jersey on. "Family First" is inked from one collarbone to the other, and the message has never been so fitting.
His face glows when he talks of his young family, with Ellis raving about his wife nearly 10 times in the course of this interview and bragging about what his son can do whenever the chance arises. "Daddy" is Monta Jr.'s favorite word, of course, and he's clearly an advanced little tyke with how he reacts to the new Warriors logo.
"If I'm wearing these shorts, he'll come grab (the logo) and say, 'Daddy, Daddy,'" Ellis boasts. "He knows exactly what it is. His mama asked me yesterday, 'How does he remember that you play basketball?' But he pays attention. He pays attention to a lot."
Meanwhile, Ellis has never felt more aware of the world around him.
"I never had a father in my life, so with the decisions that I make now it not only affects me but it affects me and my wife and my family," Ellis said. "What warms me is that when I go home right now, I know that I'll walk through that door and he's going to run straight to me and say, 'Daddy, Daddy.' It's touching to know that your No. 1 fan is at the house waiting for you and you have to be a great role model for him."
The trick, as Ellis is learning, is figuring out how to use the happiness of home to his advantage at the office. The pursuit for professional peace is no small measure considering the subject, as Ellis' team-related frustrations have been frequent and disruptive since the injury created this wedge at work. Channeling this sort of change, as he knows, would be big.
"Whatever goes on with me in this gym, this locker room, my family wipes all that away because I'm in my comfort zone," he said. "I look at it like, 'If I can do that at the house, then when I go the gym or I'm in the locker room, I can visualize that and use it to my advantage."
He's taking the family approach on the job, too, embracing teammates both new (eight in all) and old (five).
Ellis said he loves the moves made this offseason, chief among them the acquisitions of All-Star forward David Lee from New York and Charlie Bell from Milwaukee (in a deal that rid the Warriors of Corey Maggette's deal that had three years and $30.9 million left); the drafting of Baylor big man Ekpe Udoh (who suffered a mysterious injury of his own and won't be available at least until December) and the free-agent signings of Dorell Wright, Louis Amundson and Rodney Carney.
"We're family now," he said. "We all need to hold each other accountable and just move forward."
To start over, in other words. Starting with him.
"It starts with the captain of the team, the leader of the team, and that's me," Ellis said. "I just wanted to come in with a great mindset so I could have the other guys with a great mindset. Lead by example, try to get that bond, to get close, so we can approach the game the right way."
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