Originally created 07/29/01

Ellis signs three-year contract with Heat



MIAMI -- Forward LaPhonso Ellis is changing teams for the third time in four years, signing a three-year contract worth about $10 million with the Miami Heat on Saturday.

Ellis, 31, resurrected his injury-plagued career last season, playing in all 82 games and averaging 9.4 points, six rebounds and 23.8 minutes for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The 6-foot-8 Ellis could start at small forward for Miami or give the Heat an experienced role player off the bench. He was a candidate for the NBA's Sixth Man Award last season.

"I don't really have any expectations," Ellis said. "I'm coming to just serve, bring the talent I have to the table to try to do whatever it is necessary to help us win basketball games. Some nights that will be scoring, some nights that may be rebounding and some that may just be coming up with the big stop.

"I can do a few different things that may add a new element to the already tough Miami Heat team."

The Wolves offered Ellis a two-year deal beginning at $1.44 million, but they couldn't give him more because the six-year, $34 million contract Joe Smith signed left the team with little money remaining to sign other free agents.

The Heat are in a similar situation. Wanting to avoid the luxury tax, Miami has little salary cap room remaining to re-sign - or sign and trade - free agents Tim Hardaway and Anthony Mason.

The team already has lost forward Dan Majerle to Phoenix, and guard Bruce Bowen is close to signing elsewhere.

Ellis said he chose Miami over offers from Minnesota, New York, Cleveland and Dallas.

"One of the areas where I understand that we've been lacking is the ability to score consistently up front," Ellis said. "Whether I'm coming off the bench or in a starting role, I'm happy to try to provide that to the best of my ability."

Ellis averaged 14.7 and 15.4 points during his first two seasons in Denver. He was one of the NBA's most promising young forwards until a knee injury forced him to miss virtually all of 1994-95 season and nearly half of the following season.

His best season, although shortened to 55 games because of a ruptured right Achilles' tendon, came in 1996-97 when he averaged 21.9 points and seven rebounds for the Nuggets.

Ellis spent two years in Atlanta, also slowed injuries, before joining Minnesota last season.

He joins center Alonzo Mourning and power forward Brian Grant in Miami's frontcourt.

"What a wonderful front line to start with," Ellis said. "As I think of those guys, I think of size and strength. I feel like if we can all stay healthy and play consistent throughout the year, we can do some great things in the playoffs come April."