-Q: Can you see yourself playing with Curry in the backcourt?
-ELLIS: I can’t answer that. Us together? No.
-ELLIS: Can’t. We just can’t.
-Q: Too small? Too similar?
-ELLIS: Just can’t.
-Q: The Warriors say you can.
-ELLIS: They say we can? Yeah. If they say it. But we can’t.
-Q: You wouldn’t want to give it a shot?
-ELLIS: I just want to win. That’s… not going to win that way.
Warriors Media Day in 2009 didn’t go how the public relations department envisioned.
Fresh off drafting Davidson and NCAA tournament standout Stephen Curry, Monta Ellis didn’t quite welcome his new teammate with open arms. Curry – at 6-3 and 180 pounds – was drafted into what the Warriors would hope to be a formidable backcourt for years to come.
The two made sense in the box score, but not much else. Neither Ellis nor Curry were defensive stalwarts, and both were vastly outmatched on a nightly basis given their size. While Don Nelson tried to make the duo work in ways only Nelson can do, reality quickly set in that the pairing wasn’t meant to be.
It wasn’t a matter of talent, but rather the fit and personality. Ellis wanted to handle the ball while Curry was drafted to share the duties. Ellis wanted to shoot while Curry had made his name as a shooter. Ellis had his off-the-court troubles, Curry didn’t. The reasons were evident. The rumors of a split soon became reality.
Three seasons after Ellis told the media that a Curry-Ellis backcourt couldn’t win, the Lanier High School graduate was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks for the center Golden State desperately needed — Andrew Bogut. Ellis was a favorite of many Warriors fans, and Bogut missing the remainder of the season with an injury didn’t help soften the blow.
The frustration with the trade was evident when Warriors owner Joe Lacob was booed at Chris Mullin’s jersey retirement ceremony just days later. Fans saw Bogut suiting up every game, but not in a jersey. The trade was understood, but the results were yet to be seen.
Results soon came, as not only did Bogut prove to be the formidable defensive center the team was looking for, but it opened up the floor – and franchise – for Curry. As the focal point of the offense, Curry was unleashed in ways unimaginable with Ellis on the team. The team had work to do, but Curry began a career transformation that would otherwise have been impossible.
Ellis, since leaving Milwaukee and signing with Dallas before last season, has become the perfect scoring compliment to an aging Dirk Nowitzki. With the Mavericks’ impressive supporting cast, Ellis is finally in a situation that allows him to not only score, but win as well.
Meanwhile, Curry is in the midst of an MVP campaign that has his team leading the league in FGM, FG percentage, fast break points, point differential, defensive efficiency and opponents field goal percentage. Now, with coaches and players sharing a common goal and carrying the talent to match it, the team, like Ellis’s, has hopes for a title.
Entering Wednesday night’s matchup, the Mavericks were sixth in the Western Conference with a 33-17 record. Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry had played each other seven times, with the Warriors having the 4-3 edge. Ellis vs. Curry isn’t much other than fan fodder, but their history paved the way for their two franchises.
These are two players on completely different paths, but both are trying to achieve something that wasn’t possible when they were teammates: winning an NBA title. Ellis, once seen as a cancer, has reinvented his image and is now seen as a key cog for a Rick Carlisle team. Curry is the NBA’s golden boy, the (near) future face of the league with a personality and background to warrant such a title.
Rivalries are complemented with disdain, which is why Ellis and Curry aren’t considered one. This isn’t so much a rivalry as it is a revelation of what needed to happen for both players to flourish. Ellis struggled in his sixth game as a guest at Oracle Arena, shooting 7-for-19 and becoming another victim of the pests that are the Warriors wing defenders.
Meanwhile, Curry scored 51 points, highlighted by a 26-point third quarter and 10 threes (eight of them coming in that third period) in 37 minutes. Displaying handles that weren’t seen (or couldn’t be seen) while sharing the floor with Ellis, Curry flashed nearly every card he had in his deck: turnarounds, pull-up jumpers, spot-up and off-the-dribble, all with a swag that only Curry possesses.
There was a time when Curry only had one card in that deck, but his continued greatness of Curry lies in his ability to surprise seemingly every time he steps foot on the floor. In their time together, Ellis was wild card. Now, Curry has unleashed what talent couldn’t previously seen.
Curry’s barrage on Wednesday night wasn’t his first and certainly won’t be his last, but with the commissioner, nation and Ellis watching, it may be one of his most important. His ascension isn’t entirely because of Ellis, as Curry has shown he has the dedication himself to make himself this great and his supporting cast is the best he’s ever had. But, the trade was the first step in the process.