What If? The long, twisting tale of Monta Ellis, and if the Warriors could have had it all

Jed Jacobsohn

Once the face of the Golden State Warriors, what would have happened if his career had turned out a bit differently? Save a few injuries here, and a few owners there.

The butterfly effect is an underlying theme, and often the source before the crap hits the fan, in many time travel movies and stories alike. More often than not, more bad things seem to happen and everything twists into itself, causing everyone to lose their collective minds—from a critically acclaimed superhero to a crappy movie. So to put it simply, attempting to pick up said litter from the floor is akin to what's about to happen in this warped past, present, and what could have happened with Monta Ellis.

But since this is fiction, and I make the rules, there will be no repercussions for the potential changes I'll be changing. Plus, it isn't as if the reality of the Warriors hasn't been the opposite end of the butterfly effect. Playing a game of "what-ifs?" puts us dangerously close to the precipice of an Edgar Allen Poe-esque walling. But that's not to say that the result of what happened, or what can, or even what should have happened is any less realistic.

And like a figure-eight trail of dominoes, it has to start somewhere. In this case, the infamous moped incident that cost Ellis money, respect, playing time, and most ultimately, and the crux of the story, his athletic prowess. You see, what made Ellis so fascinating, especially as a high school draft pick out of Lanier High School—where he once scored 72 points in a game—were his whirly-dervish finishes and they were a cherry on top of his blinding blend of quickness and natural skill up the court.

Before the injury, he was able to get his teammates involved if only teams were forced to shade over to him because of his ability to get to the rim. He averaged 20.2 points on a career-high 53.1 percent shooting. The best part? He averaged 0.6 threes a game. That was 2007. Ellis chucked four treys a game in 2012-13. After the incident.

After his injury, it was obvious he became more jumpshot-dependent. No longer able to will his way to the basket, he took his game to the perimeter, chucking more and more ill-advised long jumpers. Gone were the days of Ellis flashing to the lane, contorting his body left and right, simultaneously, and somehow us watching the ball drop through the nylon as he crashed onto the hardwood. In came the Ellis that struggled to finish, dropped from 50+ percent in 2008 to a startling low 29.7 percent shooting from 3-9 feet in 2012, according to Hoopdata.

Most of the details can be found in Jonathan Abrams excellent piece on Ellis on Grantland. While we are always hesitant to point to a specific point in one's career, or even a game, in stating that as the endpoint between two separate worlds, it's hard not to view this injury as an event that structurally and physically changed Ellis and the Warriors.

Who knows what would have happened if he had not got on that moped? If he kept that explosiveness? Would the Warriors have drafted Stephen Curry? Monta himself was not privy to the selection, but it wasn't implausible to think that the Dubs were looking ahead to the future and picking someone that held, potentially, a lot less risk off the court. Maybe Rowell, Cohan and the rest of the inept management crew would build around Monta? Around his Allen Iverson-esque skillset, something that was effective for the Philadelphia Sixers in their championship run. Who's to say that if they had won a championship, more teams, especially in such a copycat league, would try to emulate that style? Would Jordan Hill have been taken? James Johnson, Austin Daye, and even Tyler Hansbrough would seem like perfect fits alongside a versatile Anthony Randolph for the future.

Let's say that the Warriors did draft Curry anyway, pitching together one of the most dynamic scoring combos from inside and outside—holding the notion that Ellis never got on that moped. What happens if the Warriors do win a couple more games? Chris Cohan, under heavy scrutiny for being an overall vile general manager, fighting tax evasion, decided to sell the team to Joe Lacob and Peter Guber, despite reports stating that Larry Ellison might have had the highest bid. This isn't to say a healthy Monta Ellis plus a handful of wins—probably not more than 3-5 a season—would change things but we'll never know. If the Warriors had gone to Ellison, would he have the gumption to deal Ellis for a center that was coming off serious injury and then go through the motions of one of the NBA's most egregious attempts at losing?

That's a lot of face-losing for a billionaire manager most likely built in the mindset of Mikhail Prokhorov. If your owner can buy an island, I'm sure player salaries are of no importance. Could the Warriors have dealt future first-round picks and filler players not for Andre Iguodala to save cap space after a monumental postseason run but instead multiple picks and mortgaging their future and cap room for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and any other veteran that would lead to "quick and easy" wins?

Also, in a win-now situation usually taken on by rich owners that expect instant gratification (look at the New Orleans Pelicans), we can expect the Chris Paul-Curry trade to push through. The Warriors were probably thinking of the future and how they felt Curry's extremely high potential would extrapolate into but Ellison might not have an issue pushing a young asset for a proven piece. Let's not forget that Paul had lost explosiveness due to knee injuries, as well.

There's a lot of moving pieces here but there's no saying what would happen what Bob Myers would do with a new leash on cap room. Does he make the trades he does with the luxury taxes in mind if Ellison is willing to spend whatever he takes to win? We don't know how Ellison functions but it's hard to envision him going with his gut as Lacob did in hand-picking a former player with no coaching experience like Mark Jackson. And let's not forget that Dwight Howard and Iguodala spoke as to how great his influence was in their recruitment meetings.

As for the move to San Francisco? Let's just say that Ellison, like Lacob and most other power players that have visions and ideals of profit and money, would take the Warriors out of Oakland and in...San Jose?

This is also unlikely to have happened.

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So to recap: in this absurd world that's been changed because of a moped incident and an ownership change, we now have a starting lineup of Monta Ellis, Chris Paul, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Dwight Howard and a whole lot of nothing. Of course, in this hypothetical scenario, I've not included Harrison Barnes (no tanking) and Klay Thompson (Jerry West might not have been hired and he was the one pushing for Thompson's pick), and the prospect of a repeater tax. Or money.

All this is to say that the Warriors could have been in a much different place now, with perhaps less moving pieces and a fixed ceiling that's much more known than what the actual 2013 Warriors presently own. The Brooklyn Nets won a lot of games, but man were they tough to watch. Was it because of a forced superteam put together or subpar coaching? Without Mark Jackson, what's to say it'd have been any different here? With the Warriors in such a good position for the first time in decades, it'd behoove fans to throw this one out the window.

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Let me know you think about this hypothetical scenario in the comments. Is it plausible? What did I get wrong? Will LeBron James be in the Bay Area by 2014?

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