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October 11, 2008
Monta Ellis got suspended 30 games -- and got off easy

The long-awaited decision by the Warriors came down today as a big hit to Monta Ellis' bank account... and also a big gift.

Gift No. 1, of course, is that indications are that he will play again, period. Also that he'll probably play again this season. No one can say that for sure, and who cares if Ellis and his agent say it because they're proven liars on this, willing to try and hide the truth from the bosses, just after the Warriors invested $66 million in him, but team officials project a return from the ankle injury sometime in December or January. No one expressed such optimism when Jay Williams of the Bulls turned his motorcycle into twisted metal. Ellis was driving a moped, hardly comparable to Williams' machine, but a crash is a crash and fortunate is fortunate.

Gift No. 2 is that the Warriors didn't hit him harder than what amounts to a fine of $2.99 million. They could have. There likely was even some internal discussion that they should. The non-truthers could have responded with a grievance, but going down that road when you (a) violated the contract by taking part in a prohibited activity and (b) were insubordinate by lying to management that the injury occurred in a basketball activity is a bad move for a 22-year-old player that needs to get this mess behind him.

Bad judgment compounded by bad advice from (undoubtedly) the agent to come up with a cover story. People do stupid things and young people do stupid things more often, but the coverup was worse than the crime. Straight from the D.C. playbook.

If Ellis simply got unlucky by crashing the moped -- and it is about luck since there's no telling how many players routinely take part in activities prohibited by their contract -- a lot of people would have written it off to youthful indiscretion: "Hey, everyone makes mistakes." He was riding a two-wheel scooter, not attempting to pilot some contraption over Snake River. The Warriors wouldn't have had the centerpiece of their lineup back any sooner, but it also wouldn't have turned into this great issue.

Developing a fictional script moved it from a moment of not thinking to premeditated deception. It went from the disappointment of losing an important player in an important season in his development to a reason to be bothered.

The Warriors were obligated to pay Ellis $66 million the next six seasons, the terms of the deal he signed in the summer, not long before he came down with a bad case of road rash. Ellis was obligated to keep himself healthy and be ready to play as best he can and as hard as he can. It's that simple at any age.

(The youthful indiscretion claim only goes so far, by the way. If you're not ready to make the same commitment to the team that you're expecting the team to make to you, find another line of work. Or stay in school -- Ellis would now be entering his senior year in college, had he gone in the first place rather than jump straight from high school.)

The Warriors chose the most sensible response, a suspension that won't hurt them on the court since Ellis probably wouldn't have been back within 30 games anyway. This sends a message that they're not going to just grit their teeth anymore through unnecessary drama that was life with Baron Davis and allows them to recoup the millions that would have gone to Ellis had he not brought this upon himself.

The other options were not as reasonable or realistic.

1. Do nothing.

Never had a chance. The Warriors were not going to allow themselves to play the fool. Ellis still has forever to go on the contract, long enough that if he has bad feelings over the discipline, they can fade. And if he's the kind of guy that will be angry at management for years for something he caused, you probably don't want him on the roster anyway.

2. Void the contract.

Probably didn't have a chance. Ellis is good right now, if stuck without a position, too small to be a shooting guard even in Don Nelson's system and not good enough as a ballhandler to yet rate a dependable point guard, and has the chance to be very good. He's 22 and already a handful to defend. If healthy -- granted, a big if at the moment -- you're looking at years among the scoring leaders. His speed, bursts to the basket and mid range game + Nellie's open-court approach = Wow.

Does Ellis have bad feelings about the discipline?

Who knows, and that's the other problem. He has yet to address the issue. Fans deserve to hear from him after this level of miscalculation, whether bearing a public apology, an explanation without remorse or a recital of his favorite recipes. Turning your back on the people who have supported you most does nothing for the other rehabilitation Ellis now faces.



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