Living the Fantasy: FREE MONTA!

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By NBA TV's Rick Kamla

March 9, 2007

Nellie, you know better than this!
(Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)
Don Nelson is the third winningest coach in NBA history and deserves a lot of credit for the evolution of fastbreak basketball, but he is making what could go down as the biggest mistake of his professional career.

Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson returned from injury for last Monday's game against the Pistons, and both joined Jason Richardson, Al Harrington, and Andris Biedrins in the starting lineup. The Warriors blew out the Pistons in a rare victory at the Palace, but Nellie forgot something. He forgot to start the electric Monta Ellis. (By the way, it’s pronounced Mon-tay, not Mon-tah.)

Freaks, I am loathe to second guess one of the all-time coaches, but where the (bleep) is Monta?

Tragically, Nellie benched one of my favorite players for a cat who missed the first half of a recent game because of a court appearance. I have no problem with Baron starting over Monta, but Steve Jack??? Gimme a break.

Is Nellie kidding? Is this a premature April Fool's joke? Did Nellie leave his brain on the sandy beaches of Hawaii over the All-Star break? Is Nellie taking out his frustrations from last Sunday's controversial loss to the Wizards on the second-round steal?

Monta started the previous 11 games heading into last Monday's work, and he finished that starting stint with 20-5-7 on 8-of-14 from the field in 44 minutes against the Wizards. I have looked at the line again and again, and I still can’t find a flaw.

In 42 starts, Monta has averaged 18.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.52 steals, 47 percent FG shooting, and 78 percent FT shooting in 36.8 minutes. Conversely, in 16 relief appearances he's been good for only 12.9 points, 2.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.38 steals, 48 percent FG shooting, and 69 percent FT shooting in 27.1 minutes.

Why would Nellie bench a rising star, who has been the team's most consistent and durable player this season, for a cat shooting 43 percent from the field?

Nellie cited improved defense as the key to victory over the Pistons, and pointed to the healthy returns of Davis and Jackson as the big reasons why. I’ve also heard that the Warriors prefer Jackson’s ability to generate steals which lead to fastbreak opps, but Jackson averages 1.07 steals to Monta’s 1.48.

Do I even need to say more?
(Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)
Defense schmefense.

You mean to tell me that after 60 games you're gonna start talking about defense NOW? What a joke. For additional commentary on Nellie playing the D-card on Monta, I'll channel the great Allen Iverson from one of the most infamous pressers ever, in saying: Defense? Why we in here talking about defense?

Yeah, Jackson (6-8) is longer and stronger than Ellis (6-3), but Ellis is cut from the same cloth as Iverson and Steve Francis...6-3 dynamos, cat quick, clutch, and mega-hops. And it isn't like Ellis and BD weren't successful in the same backcourt earlier this season. I think back to the home game against New Jersey when BD fired a pass up to Ellis, who buried the game-winning jumper at the buzzer. Both were getting their numbers and the Warriors were on pace to contend for the playoffs with that starting backcourt. Where and why did it all go so horribly wrong?

So … you guys and gals in the mood for a little irony?

Well, before unraveling the irony of Nellie benching Monta, I want you all to fully grasp the fact that I am blessed/cursed to live a life of irony. In other words, when I have good news for the wife, it's usually accompanied by equally bad news—or at least some kinda rub. Freaks, if you must know, I live according to the zero-sum theory.

For example, I currently have the gig of a lifetime with the NBA as a writer, play-by-play guy, fantasy show host, radio host, and whatever else they come up with. I have dreamed of a job with the League ever since I was a teenager, so I have won the career lottery. However, and miserably, because NBA TV, NBA Radio, and NBA.com are based in Secaucus, my family now lives in buzzkill New Jersey.

Fortunately, my wife, two boys, dog, and me are chillin' in wooded and secluded West Milford, which has the best people-to-land ratio in the state. We have a lake behind our house that people have cherished since the 20s, so we're pretty hooked up. Miraculously, we have found a clean pocket in a pair of dirty jeans.

I have three major beefs with New Jersey, starting with cops. Freaks, I drive 40 minutes each way to work and typically see 5-10 cops camping out in ticket-mode on each leg of the journey. As such, I am forced to drive like a grandpa ... 55 MPH in the center or right-hand lane. That's no way for a thrill-seeking Dead Head to live.

More from Living The Fantasy
March 3: 2nd Trimester Awards
Feb. 24: One Sad Week
Feb. 9: All-Star Vibes

Head to Kamla's Korner
Beef number two is the utter lack of service everywhere you go. If it isn't your doctor or dentist messing with you, it's the service department at the car dealership or the pizza guy or the finance guy or the cable guy or the gasoline attendant or the waitress or the dude taking your order at the drive-thru window. The phrases "it's good enough" and “take it or leave it” are in the mission statements for most businesses in New Jersey.

Finally, you can't believe how expensive it is to live and eat and breathe in New Jersey. From the Red Bull at the convenience store to your mortgage, the prices are puffed up beyond belief and there's nothing you can do about it. California residents pay ridiculous prices as well, but they are paying to live amongst palm trees while everyone in New Jersey is paying to live amongst power plants.

But enough about me and the cable guy and buzzkill New Jersey, let’s get back to our story.

The irony of Nellie benching Monta is that I named Nellie the Fantasy Coach of the Year through the 2nd trimester in last week's article. However, now that Nellie has mistakenly messed with Monta, I am rescinding that opinion and replacing him with Mike D'Antoni, after whom we named the award in our unofficial world. It's called the Mike D'Antoni Fantasy Coach of the Year award. Sweet ring to it, huh?

So … to reset … I call Nellie the best fantasy coach on Friday and he benches Monta on Monday. Oh the irony.

If you own Monta, as I do in League Freak, take a deep breath and come in from the ledge. It's not worth it. For the love of god, it's not worth it.

We have not seen the last of Monta the starter. For one, given Nellie's whimsical ways, Ellis could be starting the next game. Second, Monta is still getting significant burn—and that’s all that really matters. Finally, the way the Warriors’ season has gone another injury is a distinct possibility. As we speak, Jackson is playing through a painful turf toe.

Actually, Monta is a shrewd buy-low guy if your league's trade deadline has not passed.

In the first two games under the new arrangement, Jackson averaged 16.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 1.5 steals, and 38 percent shooting in 35.5 minutes while Ellis averaged 10 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 3.0 steals, and 47 percent from the field in 30 minutes. You read that correctly, Ellis doubled up Jackson’s steals through the first two games post-benching.

As we turn the page and move forward, it would be one thing if Nellie benched Ellis and still played him starter's minutes, but it's quite another to bench a guy and slash his minutes by upwards of 10 per game. Monta did nothing to lose his starting job and didn't deserve to lose his starting job, but that is where we're at and I blame Nellie.

Hard to believe such a brilliant basketball mind could be this wrong, but everyone makes mistakes.


Rick Kamla is NBA TV's resident fantasy expert and he'll be here all season to give you insider analysis on the fantasy basketball world. Kamla is the heady host for "NBA TV Fantasy Hoops Presented By Toyota," a six-night-a-week, half-hour studio show that has become the ultimate guide for fantasy basketball players. The show airs live at 1 a.m. ET every night except Thursday. And don't forget to check out Rick Kamla and Rick Barry as they host "In the Paint with Rick & Rick" on NBA Radio, Monday through Wednesday, 3-6 p.m. ET, on Sirius Satelitte Radio Channel 127.

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