The mysterious Monta Ellis ankle injury
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The mysterious Monta Ellis ankle injury

It may seem absurd right now, but there was a time the Warriors had a serious “Monta vs. Steph” discussion. Ellis was the 40th pick in the ’05 Draft, exactly the kind of player teams have trouble properly assessing. He went from 6.8/2.1/1.6 to 20.2/5/3.9 in three years! 

Given the fact Ellis was a second-round pick, the Warriors didn’t have control over his contract for seven years that teams usually do with first-round picks. So in July 2008, the Golden State Warriors signed Monta Ellis to a six-year $67 million contract extension, making him the highest-paid player on the team. He was the star of the team, a 40th pick that developed into the leading scorer of the team. Things were looking good.

About a month after that, Ellis contacted the team and informed them that he had hurt his ankle working out and will need surgery to repair a torn deltoid ligament in his left ankle. The Warriors informed the media, and one of the people following the team was a young Marcus Thompson.

I remember the conference call with Chris Mullin when they told us. He wasn’t saying “This is what happened,”; everything he couched with, “Monta said.” I was like “He don’t sound like he believe him” and I started making some calls and I found out that the Warriors think he’s lying.

Marcus Thompson, House of Strauss

Thompson investigated and reported that sources from the team say there is a suspicion that Monta is lying about his injury. As it turned out, he injured his ankle while driving a moped – something strictly prohibited. Ellis lied as this was grounds for terminating his contract and was scared of the team’s reaction.

Everybody else in the media took the Warriors word for it, and Thompson got a lot of heat for allegedly making the story up. Golden State didn’t want drama as Mullin, executive vice president of basketball operations, and coach Don Nelson were in their last year with the team and no extension was offered to them. The star player getting injured and lying a month after a $67 million contract was the last thing they needed.

When Thompson reported that they were sending a team official to Mississippi to check up on Ellis, the Warriors stated the official was going to Africa to work at Basketball without borders. Like it’s hard to stop by in Mississippi on the way to Africa.

When he returned from the 30 game suspension the Warriors had given him, Ellis continued with stellar performances. His game went up another level and in ’09/’10, he had the best season of his career, averaging 25.5/4/5.3. That season, a rookie named Steph Curry joined the Warriors.  After a few years, the Warriors realized they have to give the reins of the team to one of the two. 

They had Ellis, a 20/5/5 guy with plenty off-court issues, or Curry with amazing shooting, but one of the most concerning injury reports given his repeated ankle issues. It is particularly difficult for GMs to give up on diamonds they find in the second round, and the organization spent a long time discussing who to place their bet on. Quotes like this make it seem absurd such a discussion ever took place.