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Ellis becomes unrestricted free agent

MILWAUKEE - Milwaukee Bucks' shooting guard Monta Ellis became an unrestricted free agent yesterday, when he decided not to exercise his player option for the final year of his contract.

Ellis could have stayed with Milwaukee for $11-million dollars. Last fall, the Bucks offered him two-year extension - in addition to his option - that would have paid him 12-million dollars a year. He said no. Ellis was the Bucks' leading scorer last season, averaging 19 points and six assists in all 82 regular season games. He was 11th in the NBA in scoring. The Bucks' other starting guard, Brandon Jennings, is a restricted free agent - which means Milwaukee can match any offer. J.J. Redick, a back-up guard after he was traded to the Bucks in February, is also an unrestricted free agent.

Early reports indicate that Atlanta, Dallas, and the Los Angeles Lakers all have an interest in former Milwaukee Bucks' guard Monta Ellis. ESPN said the Lakers would only end up with Ellis if they can pull off some type of sign-and-trade deal - and that's not likely. The eighth-year pro provided instant offense a year-and-a-half ago, when he came to Milwaukee in the trade that sent the then-injured Andrew Bogut to Golden State. Ellis was Milwaukee's leading scorer last season, averaging 19 points and six assists. His departure appears it to make it more likely that the Bucks will try to draft a top college guard a week from Thursday night. There's a still a chance the Bucks could keep either Brandon Jennings, J.J. Redick, or both. Jennings is a restricted free agent who's given indications that he wants to leave. The Bucks have the right to match any offers he gets. Redick, whom the Bucks acquired in February, is an unrestricted free agent this summer.


Bucks' coach Larry Drew says assistants Nick Van Exel and Bob Bender will dedicate themselves to teaching Milwaukee's young players. The Bucks confirmed their hirings yesterday, and Drew said both were "important pieces" of his staff in Atlanta over the past three years. Media reports said Bender and Van Exel were both helping Drew evaluate talent at the Bucks' recent audition sessions for draft candidates - so their hirings are no surprise. Van Exel is a native of Kenosha. He played 13 years in the NBA, and was an All-Star in 1998. He was Atlanta's player development instructor the last three years. Bender has spent nine years as an assistant with the Hawks, after two years in the same role with Philadelphia. Meanwhile, the Bucks will hold a free-agent camp on Thursday for players who are not eligible for next week's draft. Twelve of the participants have previous experience in the NBA - including Brooklyn forward Damion James and Philadelphia forward Craig Brackins. Ex-Marquette guard Dwight Buycks will also take part in the camp.