Sources: No more penalties for Warriors' Ellis

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» Tue Apr 14, 2009 6:30 pm
The Golden State Warriors have formally relinquished the right to impose further sanctions against guard Monta Ellis for an ankle injury Ellis suffered in an offseason mo-ped accident, sources told

The Warriors have maintained for weeks that their satisfaction with Ellis' recovery from ankle surgery had been clearly stated to the 22-year-old and agent Jeff Fried, but sources close to the process revealed Tuesday that Fried has been presented with a letter from the club to close the matter in writing, confirming that Golden State will not seek any additional penalties against Ellis.

Golden State did not comment beyond confirming the existence of the letter through a club spokesman. Neither Ellis nor Fried could be immediately reached for comment.

In October, Ellis was suspended without pay by the Warriors for 30 games -- costing him nearly $3 million in salary -- as punishment for partaking in an activity that violates the NBA's uniform player contract and then initially telling the Warriors that he suffered his injuries playing pickup basketball in his native Mississippi.

Ellis' mo-ped ride came about a month after he received one of the biggest pay raises in league history, signing a new six-year deal worth $66 million in late July after playing for a mere $770,610 in 2007-08 to complete the three-year deal he received as a second-round pick in 2005.

The Warriors were criticized for the severity of the punishment and its possible long-term effect on Ellis' psyche but insisted that the suspension without pay was justified because Ellis was being docked for games he had no chance of playing in because of the rehabilitation time involved.

Although Ellis ultimately didn't make his season debut until Jan. 23 -- missing an additional 17 games after the suspension was lifted -- and wound up appearing in only 25 games this season, Warriors coach Don Nelson has gushed about Ellis' progress, insisting that he plans to start him at point guard next season even though the club announced Friday that it was shelving Ellis for the remainder of the season because of a bone bruise and inflammation in the surgically repaired ankle.

"He's gotten himself back to where he's ... the same player that we had before, and that's the most important thing," Nelson told Bay Area reporters Friday.

In a recent conversation with about the Warriors' slump from 48-34 last season to 29-52 this season, Nelson said: "To me it's so simple. We lost Monta for [an extended period] and we knew it would be a down year without Baron [Davis] in the first place. But we had no chance without Monta. So here we are suffering this bad year, but the bottom line is with a healthy Monta -- and it looks like that ankle is going to be healthy -- we're not that far away. We like the team."

Ellis averaged 19.0 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists in the 25 games that he played in. Nelson's plan is to shift Stephen Jackson to shooting guard alongside Ellis next season, with two options at each of the frontcourt positions: Corey Maggette and Kelenna Azubuike at small forward, Anthony Randolph and Brandan Wright at power forward and Andris Biedrins and Ronny Turiaf at center.

Yet it's believed that the Warriors -- with a growing cache of trade assets that also includes sharpshooter Anthony Morrow and backup point guard C.J. Watson -- will also be active on the trade market this offseason. Sources indicate that Toronto's Chris Bosh and Utah's Carlos Boozer are among the veterans Golden State will be tracking should either become available via trade.

The Warriors maintained from the start that they were not intent on holding the threat of voiding the contract over Ellis but merely protecting club interests, until they had hard evidence that Ellis would fully recover from his high ankle sprain and torn deltoid ligament in his left ankle. The team does not appear to be concerned about Ellis' latest discomfort, saying that the bone bruise and inflammation is on the opposite side of the ankle than where the injury was initially suffered.

The Warriors also appear to have quieted fears that the initial suspension would inflict lasting damage to the relationship between the team and Ellis' camp, as Fried was in Oakland with team officials on Tuesday to help promote a super middleweight boxing match that the Warriors are helping to stage at Oracle Arena in May featuring local favorite Andre Ward. The 2004 Olympic gold medalist is close with Ellis and is likewise represented by Fried.

Because Ellis sustained his injuries by taking part in non-basketball activities prohibited in his contract, Golden State theoretically could have sought to void the $66 million deal it gave Ellis on July 24. The Warriors, though, insist that pursuing that option was always a highly unlikely scenario unless there was evidence that Ellis -- who became one of the faces of the club's rebuilding effort in the wake of Davis' free-agent defection to the Los Angeles Clippers -- had suffered career-threatening damage.

The episode, however, is regarded as the genesis of the steady fade from prominence this season for Warriors executive vice president of basketball operations Chris Mullin, who is in the final season of his contract and widely expected to leave the club when his deal expires June 30.

Upon announcing the suspension on Oct. 11, Warriors president Robert Rowell was asked about published reports suggesting that Mullin told Warriors owner Chris Cohan that he did not want to hit Ellis with such a substantial suspension without pay and confirmed that there had been a disagreement with Mullin over how to punish Ellis.

The Warriors are expected to conduct a search for a new general manager this summer, with Nelson -- who received a two-year coaching extension worth $12 million in October -- insisting that he has no interest in doing both jobs. Larry Riley, one of Nelson's closest associates, has been the point man in Golden State's front office for much of the season after he was moved from the Warriors' bench to the front office as assistant general manager in November to replace Mullin aide Pete D'Alessandro.

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