Whether it’s running off screens or bouncing between teams, Wayne Ellington has learned how to survive as a man constantly on the move in the NBA.
So had the Miami Heat not been able to clear the salary cap space it needed to pick up his $6.27 million option for next season by 11:59 p.m. on July 7 (his second-year option), Ellington would have just done what he’s done every summer for the last five years and prepared himself to start over with a new team.
Thankfully, though, Heat president Pat Riley kept his word and general manager Andy Elisburg solved the salary cap math to bring the Heat’s leading three-point shooter back. It’s something Ellington, 29, says means a lot to him considering he’s played for seven different teams (T’Wolves, Grizzlies, Cavs, Mavericks, Lakers, Nets are the others) in eight seasons in the league and just became a father for the first time in March.
“It means a heckuva lot to me that a team wanted me back,” Ellington said Tuesday afternoon as he served as the special guest at the Heat’s youth summer league camp at Nova High School in Davie.
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“At the end of the season, Pat told me ‘I want to get better, but I want to get better with you.’ It made me feel like he was going to do what he had to do to get our team better – which I feel like he did – but at the same time I was able to stay on board. I’m ecstatic about that. It feels good. I know we’re all hungry this season, and we’ve got a lot to prove.”
Nicknamed ‘The Man with the Golden Arm’ by Heat TV play-by-play broadcaster Eric Reid, Ellington was a pivotal piece in the Heat’s 30-11 second-half turnaround last season.
With Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters ranking third and sixth in the league in drives to the basket per game, Ellington was often the man on the receiving end of their kick-out passes when they didn’t take the ball all the way to the rim. Ellington’s 6.4 points per game on catch-and-shoot attempts ranked 17th in the league. His 116 three-pointers made on catch-and-shoot attempts ranked 24th.
Both stats led the Heat, which ranked No. 1 in drive-and-kick passes (passes from the paint to a shooter) per 100 possessions.
For that reason and others, Riley said last week, the Heat clearly didn’t want to lose Ellington.
“It would have killed me to see him go,” Riley said. “Just like James Johnson and Dion, he changed everything about how he played [physically]. I look at Wayne as a Udonis Haslem type of person, J.J. type of personality. He’s so in, so committed, and he can see what that did for himself with our help, and how it improved his game. He’s one of the best catch-and-shoot players in the league – forget about just standstill threes. I’m talking about a guy who can run off screens at 100 mph and raise from three feet behind the line [and hit the shot].
“And he’s such a great person. He just had a baby. He’s looking for a house. I’m so happy that we can have him back, just from that standpoint.”
Even after shooting 37.8 percent from three-point range and setting career highs in scoring average (10.5), three-pointers made and ranking third on the team in plus/minus (+90), Ellington believes he can still get faster and better.
He said Tuesday he would like to play at around 195 pounds next season. He played at roughly 203 pounds and 6.5 percent body fat the second half of last season after playing at 222 pounds and 12.5 percent body fat the season prior for the Brooklyn Nets.
“I kind of compare [last year] to one of those [toy] cars you had when you’re a kid that [you roll] back in order to go forward,” said Ellington, who missed 16 games at the start of last season with a bruised right thigh and then another four games in mid December with a strained right hamstring, but still shined in the 62 games he did play in because he was in the best shape of his career.
“We had to kind of go backwards and learn each other and figure it out,” he continued. “Towards the end of the year, the car was all the way back and ready to go forward. I think we’re ready to just go forward. We’re all anxious, man. We know the work that we put in and we know the work we’re continuing to put in this off-season. So, we’re ready to show that last season – the second half – was what we are, who we are and we can have some great success.”
Ellington said he never got anxious waiting to see if the Heat was going to be able to keep him under the cap. He said he had faith in Riley and wasn’t going to worry about Plan B until after his re-signing deadline had past.
Riley, 72, hinted last week the Heat is interested in keeping Ellington beyond next season.
“Now we get the chance to negotiate with him,” Riley said. “He’ll be here basically for two years, and so we’ve got Early Bird Rights on him. And, so, I’m glad he’s going to have that opportunity. I just want us to have a great shot at it. He’s relatively young still, 29. When these guys get in that kind of shape they go back to maybe 25, 24... he’s just a great leader, great guy, so crucial for us.”