Warriors' Ellis out at least 3 months after ankle surgery

Updated: August 29, 2008, 5:03 PM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

The Golden State Warriors won't have Baron Davis or Monta Ellis in their starting lineup on opening night.

In perhaps the biggest setback of a difficult summer for the Warriors, team officials confirmed Wednesday that Ellis -- just awarded one of the biggest pay raises in league history -- will be sidelined at least three months after suffering a severe high ankle sprain in his hometown of Jackson, Miss.

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Ellis, 22, underwent successful surgery Wednesday in Birmingham, Ala., to repair a torn deltoid ligament in his left ankle, which the team announced after an ESPN.com report earlier Wednesday.

In an afternoon conference call with local reporters, Warriors executive vice president of basketball operations Chris Mullin said Ellis informed the club that he injured himself last Thursday playing pickup ball in his native Mississippi.

About a month ago, Ellis received a six-year, $66 million contract extension from the Warriors. Ellis' ankle will be immobilized for six weeks, followed by at least six weeks of off-court rehab before the 6-foot-3 guard can return to basketball workouts, ruling Ellis out for all of training camp and the preseason and at least the first month of the regular season. Chances are that he won't play until December.

The Warriors' tumultuous offseason began with Davis making a verbal commitment to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers on the very first day of free agency. While Ellis is the primary heir to Davis' offensive responsibilities, Mullin insisted Wednesday that "there will be no panic, emergency moves immediately." But Mullin did concede that Golden State is interested in signing former Clippers guard Shaun Livingston and said he registered that interest before Ellis got hurt, with Mullin scheduled to fly to Chicago on Thursday to watch Livingston in a private workout.

"Right now, we feel like we're going to let Marcus [Williams] handle the point," Mullin said. "There will be a lot more discussion moving forward about that, but we feel like we'll come up with a lot of different scenarios between [coach Don Nelson] and I. The one thing we won't do is panic and do something just knee-jerk."

Ellis was unavailable for comment Wednesday, and his agent, Jeff Fried, could not immediately be reached.

The 20-50 Club

Monta Ellis, who doesn't turn 23 until October, is part of an elite group of guards 22 and younger who averaged 20 ppg and 50 percent shooting in a season. How he stacks up:

Player Season Age
Monta Ellis, Warriors 2007-08 22
Kevin Johnson, Suns 1988-89 22
Michael Jordan, Bulls 1984-85 21
Magic Johnson, Lakers 1980-81 21
David Thompson, Nuggets 1976-77 22

The new contract calls for Ellis to earn a flat $11 million in each of the next six seasons after he made $770,610 last season to complete a modest three-year deal he received as a second-round pick in 2005.

Golden State won more games (48) than all but three teams in the Eastern Conference last season but failed to reach the playoffs in the hypercompetitive Western Conference. The Warriors have repeatedly insisted that they realized their top two offseason priorities by re-signing Ellis and fellow restricted free agent Andris Biedrins, but they were nonetheless stunned by the sudden nature of Davis' departure -- since Davis initially was expected not to opt out of the final year of his contract -- and never imagined losing his chief replacement so quickly.

"I don't think it helps, let's not kid ourselves," Mullin said when asked how much the injury will slow Ellis' expected shift from shooting guard to point guard. "It's not a good thing. But, again, I think Monta's showed over the course of his short career his toughness and ability a lot of times to take some tough situations and make the best of them.

"This training camp was going to be an important part for his development, no question. It's going to be pushed back, obviously, and we've just got to deal with that. ... We don't think it's a season-ending injury, [but] the time frame [with various injuries], as we all know, it fluctuates."

The Warriors initially responded to Davis' exit by signing swingman Corey Maggette away from the Clippers to join co-captain Stephen Jackson, then by signing Los Angeles Lakers restricted free agent Ronny Turiaf to add bulk on their front line.

They also matched the Clippers' offer sheet to retain restricted free agent Kelenna Azubuike and acquired point guard Marcus Williams in a trade with New Jersey. Also, the Warriors are extremely high on first-round draft pick Anthony Randolph and thus did little to prevent forwards Mickael Pietrus (Orlando) and Matt Barnes (Phoenix) from following Davis out the door.

It remains possible that the Warriors could trade forward Al Harrington before the start of the season, with Harrington reportedly open to a move. Yet there's really no replicating what Ellis provides for the Warriors, especially given Nelson's plans to use Ellis regularly at the point after playing him primarily as a shooting guard in his first three pro seasons.

Ellis averaged 20.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists last season, after winning NBA Most Improved Player honors after the 2006-07 season when he averaged 16.5 points, 3.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists. He seemed to understand his importance to the team's post-Baron future when Ellis shared at a news conference in late July that Davis recently "told me it was time to hand over the torch."

The only solace for the Warriors is that Ellis has a history of making strong, fast recoveries from major injuries.

Ellis slipped to No. 40 in the 2005 draft, despite a decorated high school career, largely because of a knee problem that scared teams off. But he has since proven more productive in the NBA than any of the 10 players drafted out of high school that year, which was the last time high school players were eligible to be selected. That group includes No. 6 overall pick Martell Webster (Portland), No. 10 Andrew Bynum (Los Angeles Lakers) and No. 18 Gerald Green (drafted by Boston, now with Dallas).

Ellis also suffered what initially appeared to be a serious knee injury during a summer-league practice in 2006, and he endured a scary fall early in training camp last October that resulted in a neck sprain and required him to be immobilized and carted off the court. In both cases, though, Ellis missed minimal time. He appeared in 77 and 81 games, respectively, after the two injuries.

Ellis is also known for his boundless confidence, as evidenced when he scoffed at reporters' recent suggestions that the switch from shooting guard to the point will be a problem.

"I'm going to improve every part of my game," Ellis said last month. "That's what I do. That's why I play basketball ... to improve and to become the best player [who] ever touched a basketball."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report. Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

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