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After nearly a month's worth of speculation, the Golden State Warriors took action this weekend and suspended their best player for 30 games.
That includes four preseason games, so Monta Ellis will be gone until after the Warriors take on the Indiana Pacers on December 17.
This would normally seem a risky endeavor for a team that won 48 games last season and still missed the playoffs in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. But the fact that Ellis was likely to play in few if any of those 30 games in the first place mitigates most of that gamble and turns this suspension into something that will probably amount to little more than a good public relations move for the organization that employs the 22-year-old guard.
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Ellis injured himself back in August and initially told the team that he got hurt working out on the court at home in Mississippi. It came out shortly thereafter that the fourth-year budding star had lied and that he had actually sustained his ankle injury riding a moped, which is a clear violation of the part of the NBA's uniform player contract that prohibit activities such as, say, riding mopeds. Not a good start to the 2008-09 campaign for a guy who had just been rewarded with a six-year, $66 million contract to secure his place as a franchise cornerstone Oakland.
So the Warriors had a decision to make: Take action against Ellis and risk alienating their best player, or do nothing and risk sending a bad message to the team and the fans about stars getting away with misconduct.
But the kicker was the extent of Ellis' injury, which would certainly appear to make the decision less of a dilemma. Virtually from the start, Ellis was expected to be out at least until December in the first place. There wasn't necessarily any guarantee that he would be ready to play before the turn of the calendar, so suspending Ellis through December 17 isn't much of a risky proposition from the standpoint of the basketball that is to be played between now and then.
It's also hard to imagine Ellis being that peeved about being suspended for games that he knew he wasn't going to play in anyway. He is by all accounts a good kid, and one virtually has to think that he knows he messed up by this point, so he'll have to live without the $3 million he'll lose (which still leaves a measly $63 million to him on this contract). He broke a clear rule, and he'll serve his time for it and move on. That he'll be serving time that really wouldn't have been his to begin with is just a bonus for Ellis. The guess here is that the context of the suspension should help dampen the likelihood of Ellis alienating himself from the time, and it doesn't hurt either that Don Nelson and Chris Mullin have publicly indicated that they weren't in favor of suspending the youngster. It was owner Chris Cohan and president Robert Rowell who made the decision, but Mullin (the GM) and particularly Nelson (the coach) are the two front office folks with whom Ellis deals most on a day-to-day basis. If he knows he has their support going forward, that may soften any psychological blow caused by the suspension.
Further, by suspending Ellis, the Warriors have sent a clear message to the rest of the roster and the team's fan base. The organization appears as though it will not tolerate off-court misconduct in a manner that hurts the team, and it avoids susceptibility to accusations of star treatment for its summer investment. The Warriors set an apparent precedent here that they will punish players who step out of line and jeopardize the club, and the front office no doubt hopes that will help its image with the fans while deterring other players from similar behavior.
In the meantime, the Warriors gain what should be closure to the Ellis injury mystery-fiasco without doing themselves much damage in the won-loss column. The risk of Ellis turning on the team still seems low, and so long as that doesn't happen, the suspension ploy will be a good one for Golden State.