Who Guaranteed Monta Ellis?
The high school senior, a high-scoring 6-3 guard, has closed the door to college ball by hiring an agent. Why would he do that unless he knew some team had guaranteed to take him in the first round? So the question becomes: who issued such a guarantee? The last team to draft a 40-point-per-game Mississippi high schooler in the first round was the Boston Celtics. Will they repeat?
Some background on Monta Ellis. SchoolSports.com rates him as around the seventh or ninth best high schooler in the country (an article lists him as ninth but their possibly updated table seems to list him as seventh). In any case, he's a top player but he's no LeBron James. He's not even a Sebastian Telfair, since the hype machine is all but dead on Ellis so far. Expect that to change now that he has an agent pushing his cause.
He's reported as having average more than 40 points per game from the backcourt in leading his team to a championship. I couldn't find independent corroboration but let's suppose this is the case.
He did not attend Sonny Vaccaro's Reebok Roundball Classic, which is essentially a high school All-Star game, supposedly on advice from his agent. The key word there is: agent. Once a player has enlisted an agent, he is no longer an amateur and is therefore ineligible to play for college under NCAA rules. Previously, Ellis had committed to Mississippi State if he were to attend college.
Now that he's almost surely going to declare himself for the NBA draft and turn pro, the question is not just who will take him, but who has already given him or his agent some reason to believe that he would be taken in the first round?
If Ellis drops to the second round, he would be on a team's roster but would not receive guaranteed income unless he made the team. In other words, he would have to prove himself against experienced NBA veterans immediately, with no leeway. He doesn't have to be drafted in the lottery (the first fourteen draft choices), which is where the top players, the most bankable stars, are typically taken, but he does need to be taken in the first round overall.
That means the team that gets him would likely be in the twenties or so.
We can say more about the team that would likely get him. It would likely be a team that already has a lot of youth and veterans and could afford to develop a talent such as his for several years. It would likely be a team that would be potentially losing an All-Star caliber shooting guard in 2-3 years time, just when Ellis would likely be exploding into dominance. That way they could decide at the time whether they would need to extend their current All-Star at maximum dollars or roll over into the new star easily, with him already being familiar with the teammates, the plays, and the coaching staff, and also being on the books for another year or two at least.
Furthermore it would likely be a team that has had some success drafting from high school. Washington, for example, still probably feels slightly burned by taking Kwame Brown as the top overall pick in 2001. It wouldn't stop them from possibly taking another chance but their hurdle rate would likely be higher than other teams.
What team fits all these conditions?
Last year, I wrote about Al Jefferson and how, no matter what you think of him, you can't go too far wrong with a guy who averaged 40 points and 20 rebounds. I predicted that the Celtics would draft him 15th overall and indeed they did. It has turned out to be a very fortunate choice as Big Al is looking like he will be a dominant force in the league for years to come, having already contributed massively to the surging Celtics this year as well as representing the Rookies during All-Star weekend.
Big Al was also from Mississipi, from Prentiss, specifically, which is about an hour south of Jackson, MS, where Ellis averaged 40 points per game. In the second round last year, the Celtics also drafted Justin Reed, who not only played for Mississippi, but also grew up in Jackson.
Does a plan begin to emerge?
The Celtics draft 21st, according to current league standings. That puts them right where Ellis would like to get drafted. Their All-Star Paul Pierce has two more years after this season on his contract plus a player option on a third. Ellis would help current rookie Tony Allen give them insurance at his position. While Allen is a terrific defender and a solid scorer, Ellis could eventually be the offensive powerhouse to replace Pierce's scoring. The Celtics have five players on their roster drafted in the past two years, and their remaining players are fairly young as well with some veterans. They could easily spend the time to bring Ellis along slowly, guiding him in fitness, nutrition, and general accumulation. They have drafted two high schoolers in two years, and each (Kendrick Perkins and Al Jefferson) have come along great. They have a program in place for developing young hot talents.
It's unlikely anything formal was expressed by anybody to anybody. In fact it may just be that Ellis or his agent went through a similar line of reasoning and simply assumed that Boston's interest would likely be there at those levels. In either event, a late first round draft pick on a potential superstar in 2-3 years time is not much of a gamble.
The only thing that could put the kibosh on this deal would be if the Lakers make the playoffs. If they do, then the Celtics suddenly have two draft picks, and have to ship their lowest one out to Atlanta. Boston might not be as happy to draft Ellis at 14 or 15, which is where they got Jefferson last year. But with the Lakers 3.5 games behind Denver for the eighth seed, that may not be something anyone needs to worry about.
Is this team suddenly becoming the Mississippi Celtics?