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Pacers Media Day: Monta Ellis wanted to be wanted

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Monta Ellis will be something in Indiana he no longer was in Dallas: A wanted man.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

He was traded to the Bucks when the Golden State Warriors decided to rebuild around Stephen Curry. Then he voluntarily left Milwaukee, leaving nearly $11 million on the table, to join the Dallas Mavericks in an attempt to shed the "volume scorer" label which had followed him all throughout his career. But when it came time for him to exercise his player option at season's end with the team he led in scoring, Ellis declined as rumors mounted that Dallas planned to trade him should he opt-in. The message there was the same as it had been at his previous two stops:

It's time to move on.

"It was self-explanatory," Ellis explained regarding the Mavericks' lack of interest in retaining him. "We never sat down and talked a contract number or anything."

Moody. Petulant. Self-absorbed. These were the words being used by reporters to characterize Monta's last several months in Dallas. One even went so far as to describe him as "a pain in the butt who isn't producing." Unnecessarily playing through a hip injury to avoid missing a game was a questionable decision. His refusal to celebrate an overtime win with his teammates; instead, opting to remain seated at the baseline went over like a lead balloon. And outings like his 4-of-22 shooting performance against the Phoenix Suns in late March brought back bad memories of his offensive inefficiency from during his time in Oakland and Milwaukee. Given the circumstances, change, again, seemed inevitable.

Then the Pacers came calling.

Larry Bird, Kevin Pritchard, and head coach Frank Vogel made signing the high-motor guard top priority, reportedly meeting with him at a downtown Indianapolis steakhouse within a few days of the open to free agency. What was said at the meeting, though we don't know specifics, quite clearly made a profound impact on the perennial All-Star snub.

Because if NBA Media Day Bingo were an actual game, Ellis would have walked away the winner within a few minutes of his media availability.

"I'm just blessed to be here," he said.

"We've got a great group of guys here," he added.

The classic pre-training camp cliches went on and on. But when it came to elaborating on his decision to come to Indiana, the soft-spoken and seemingly reserved guard made one point very clear:

He wanted to be wanted.

"When I decided to come here," he explained. "it's because (Larry) Bird and coach (Frank Vogel) came down and just said they...wanted me.

"For you to be able to do what you do and come here and enjoy the scenery that you're in -- the environment -- you have to feel wanted. Sometimes, there's going to be dark days, but at the end of the day (knowing) that they want me is going to override everything."

And why wouldn't the Pacers want Ellis?

His game seamlessly fits the style of play Indiana wants to implement. He's a relentless driver and acrobatic finisher, the embodiment of the phrase drive-and-dish, ranking third in the league in total points scored as the pick-and-roll ball handler last season.

"We can space the floor a lot," Ellis said of his new teammates on the "Blue & Gold Breakdown" with Pat Boylan and Mark Boyle. "All those guys -- me, Paul (George), George (Hill) -- all of us can break a defender down and get to the basket and make plays for others."

Ellis isn't going to space the floor with his shooting (he shot just 28.5 percent from three last season), but his ability to collapse an opponent's defense with his knack for getting to the rim should go a long way toward generating open looks for shooters.

The knocks against his team defense are warranted, but the Pacers are banking on their defensive system and his ability to play passing lanes and score in bunches to far outweigh any possible drawbacks.

So much so, that Vogel admitted Ellis was a player the Pacers had long been coveting from afar.

"We felt like, 'Man he's just a nightmare to prepare for,'" explained Indiana's head coach. "Every time you go to play a Monta Ellis team you're asking yourself, 'What are we going to do with that guy.' Every defensive scouting report starts with him."

Frank Vogel has had plenty of opportunity to plan around the 10-year NBA veteran. The game he missed, coincidentally, against the Indiana Pacers last season broke a streak of 237 consecutive games played. His warrior mentality, for better or worse, is something Paul George looks forward to having on his side this season.

"I'm really excited playing with Monta." George said of Ellis. "I heard a lot of great stories and talked to a lot of guys that played with him. One thing they told me is: 'Once you're going out there, you know you've got a soldier with you.' And that's all I ask for because I'm going to lay everything on the line for the man next to me, and I expect the same out of that."

At long last, Ellis isn't just somewhere where he is needed. He's somewhere where he's wanted.

"So to have him here and to have him excited about being on our team, (that) is something we're all excited about,"  said Vogel.

Indiana's goal is for him to be the Dwyane Wade to Paul George's LeBron. The Klay Thompson to George's Curry.

He just has to want to.

"Now, I'm just in a great place, to be here with a great group of guys, a great organization, and a great city that just wants to judge me for just playing basketball and not other things," Ellis gushed on the live edition of the "Blue & Gold Breakdown" with Pat Boylan and Mark Boyle. "It's a relief."