Monta Ellis Trying to Break Warriors' All-Star Drought
Keith Smart figures it's time for Golden State's practice facility to get an update.
A banner on the wall makes note of every Warrior to have been selected for the NBA All-Star Game, an impressive collection that includes Wilt Chamberlain, Nate Thurmond and Rick Barry. But the list comes to an end with the 1997 designation of Latrell Sprewell.
The Warriors have by far the longest NBA drought for not having a player make an All-Star team. Tied for second longest are Milwaukee, with Michael Redd the last one, and Sacramento, with Brad Miller and Peja Stojakovic the most recent, not having had an All-Star since 2004.
"Without question, we want to update the banner,'' said Smart, Golden State's coach.
Well, the Warriors have a strong candidate. That would be guard Monta Ellis, third in the NBA in scoring with a 25.4 average.
Then again, that's hardly a guarantee Ellis will make it. Despite being on his way to a season in which he would average 25.5 points, Ellis wasn't selected for the 2010 All-Star Game in Dallas, even though NBA commissioner David Stern named three injury replacements for West guards.
"Every time somebody got hurt, we thought he'd be that next guy,'' said Warriors guard Stephen Curry. "But our record was so bad last year. ... We're a better team this year and he's a better player this year than he was last year.''
But Golden State, which went 26-56 last year during an injury-riddled campaign, isn't a lot better. At 13-20, the Warriors are on pace for 32 wins, and that could make it tough next month to break the Curse of Sprewell.
After Sprewell made the All-Star Game in 1997, his third appearance in a four-season span for the Warriors, he choked then Golden State coach P.J. Carlesimo in December 1997. Sprewell was suspended for the rest of that season and never played for the Warriors again.
And they haven't had an All-Star since.
"For sure, it's been a little bit of a drought,'' said Warriors forward David Lee, an All-Star last season with New York. "When I was in New York, it had been (nine) years since Allan Houston was the previous (All-Star for the Knicks). It would be great not only for Monta, with all the work he's put in (to be named an All-Star), but for the whole organization. ... Hopefully, he can break (the drought) this year.''
Others, though, seem more optimistic than Ellis. The sixth-year man is quite aware of what faces him.
"I'm in the West,'' he said. "It's different from being in the West than in the East. ... It's pretty tough in the West when you got a lot of great guards in that conference.''
It sure is.
Figuring the Lakers' Kobe Bryant and New Orleans' Chris Paul will hold on in the fan voting and start, there might be just three more guard spots available in the West. With coaches voting on the reserves, Ellis must battle the likes of Utah's Deron Williams, Phoenix's Steve Nash, the San Antonio duo of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker and Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook.
Portland's Brandon Roy, injured after having been named to three straight All-Star Games, and Denver's Chauncey Billups, whose stats have slipped after five straight appearances, aren't competition for Ellis. But Westbrook has taken a big leap this season and San Antonio's stunning 29-4 mark makes it very possible the Spurs could send their starting backcourt to Los Angeles for the Feb. 20 game.
"It'd be all right,'' Ellis said of being named an All-Star. "But it'd mean a lot to me if we make the playoffs with making the All-Star team. ... I let my game speak for itself and help my team win. ... I still got to get my team to winning.''
Of the serious candidates at guard, only Ellis and Nash are on losing teams. It will be interesting to see how the slippage of the Suns (14-18) affects Nash, who has been named to seven of the past nine All-Star Games.
"You're voting for who's playing well,'' said Smart, not believing the Warriors' record should be a deterrent when coaches vote for reserves. "We would love to have our team in the right place (in that) we're in first, second or third place in our division and all that stuff (actually, the Warriors are in third place but the Pacific has no winning outfits after the Lakers). But that's not what the All-Star Game is all about. The All-Star Game is about showcasing the guys who are playing at a very, very high level. So I would ask (West coaches) to think about this guy because he's played at a high level every night.''
Well, the NBA office noticed it. Last Monday, Ellis was named Western Conference Player of the Week following a stretch in which he averaged 39.7 points, 7.0 assists and 3.0 steals in three games.
"When I got the news he was going to be named Western Conference Player of the Week, that was just great,'' said Smart, who was an assistant when Ellis joined the Warriors in 2005-06 and is in his first season as the team's head man. "That was like one of my kids getting a great award because I've seen his ups and downs, I've seen his maturity, I've seen everything about him to get him to this point.''
The biggest down came when Ellis, 25, suffered a torn ligament in his left ankle in August 2008 and originally lied to the team that he had been hurt working out rather than in a moped accident. That activity could have voided the six-year, $66 million contract extension he had signed a month earlier, but the Warriors ended up suspending Ellis without pay for 30 games, a period he was to have missed anyway due to the injury.
Ellis returned to average 19.0 points that season in 25 games. He doesn't want to talk about how he has fought back from that career-threatening situation.
"All that's behind me,'' Ellis said.
The biggest up for Ellis would be returning from all that to make an All-Star team. He's raised his shooting percentage from 44.9 last season to 47.4 and his 5.5 assists average is on pace to be a career high.
If Ellis can't break the Curse of Sprewell next month, there remains hope for the Warriors in future seasons. Curry, averaging 18.8 points in his second season, looks to be a future All-Star, and there's no reason why Lee, averaging 15.0 points and 10.1 rebounds in an injury-riddled campaign, can't again make an All-Star team some day.
"It kind of goes hand in hand with us not making the playoffs in 15 of the past 16 years,'' Curry said about the Warriors having players who are strong threats to end the drought. "We're trying to change the reputation of the Warriors and get us back to the elite status of the NBA.''
And get that banner updated.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson