It’s been four years now, and Tyreke Evans is far from a rookie.
No longer is the Chester native approaching veteran status, but he also finds himself mixed up in trade talk, something he probably didn’t foresee after bring drafted fourth overall in 2009 by the Sacramento Kings.
He understands the business, and also understands why his name went from franchise player to trade bait. Evans is taking it all in stride, though.
“I just worry about playing basketball,” he said when asked about being traded. “If it happens, it happens."
Evans has missed 16 games this season with a left knee injury, but has been steady lately, putting up seven straight double-figure scoring efforts.
“A little banged-up,” he said on Friday morning as the Kings prepared for that night's game against the Sixers, “but I’m pretty good though. Good enough to play.”
And play is what he’ll need to do if Evans expects to continue to be that player whom many projected to be a superstar.
It’s the constant injures that have plagued Evans’ career. It was his left knee that recently kept him out of action. Last season it was the knick-knack stuff – the sprained ankles, back spasms, etc. And the season before that, he missed 19 games with plantar fasciitis in his left foot.
The injuries may have been the reason the Kings elected not to extend Evans’ contract. A possible move to Seattle could be the reason, too, as the Maloof family may want to keep costs down for the sale of the team. No matter the reason, Evans knows the situation he’s in -- scheduled to be a free agent following season -- and admitted he is playing with a chip on his shoulder.
“Definitely,” he said. “With the injury, it kind of set me back a little bit, but ... I’m getting back on track where I was at.”
Kings head coach Keith Smart saw that Evans was having a productive season before the knee injury occurred last November, saying Evans was “ready to take off.”
“I thought he was in the right place physically, right place with what he was doing on the floor with his game, shooting, being able to defend people, twos and threes and some ones,” Smart said. “I really thought he was ready to move real fast ... but then he got hurt, had the big setback and had to start over again.”
After averaging 20.1 points and 5.8 assists on his way to Rookie of the Year honors in the 2009-10 season, Evans’ production has dropped. His averages dipped his sophomore year (17.8 points, 5.8 assists), in his third year (16.5 points, 4.5 assists), and this season he’s currently averaging 14.9 points and 3.1 assists. That slippage may hurt Evans, at least for the moment.
Asked his response when the Kings decided not to extend his contract last November, Evans said there was no reaction.
“It wasn’t really a big deal to me,” he said. “I’ll just let it play out and we’ll see what happens.”
Added Smart: “I think he’s playing, not for the contract, I think he trying to prove that, ‘I’m ready to establish myself.’"
Smart has moved Evans around a lot. The Memphis product has played point guard, small forward, and now shooting guard. The move, Smart said, was implemented to help Evans become a better offensive player.
“I think [the move] is going to help open his eyes to the game,” Smart said. “When you have the ball at times, defenses just lock right into you. I moved him off the ball, which is going to help our team, being able to guard twos and threes. ... It was going to open his game up a little bit more than I think he wanted. But he still handles the ball a great deal for me.”
Evans said he does miss running the point, but he’s learning to play shooting guard.
“I’m used to having the ball in my hands,” he said. “With the ball not in my hands, it’s kind of different for me. I’m still learning that position, but I’m getting better and better with it.”
Smart said Evans is learning to become a better all-around player, looking at the stat sheet as proof. Evans had his first double-double of the season (19 points, 11 rebounds) last month in a loss to the Celtics. “He’s not just 20 points,” Smart said. “He’s getting his assists, getting rebounds, getting some steals, so I think he’s moving in that direction where he can be a two-way player.”
And still, with Evans appearing to be getting back into pre-injury form, his name continues to generate trade speculation. Evans said he’s heard his name being mentioned around teams like the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers, just to name a few.
Does he want to be dealt?
“Not really,” said Evans. “I’m good. I like playing for the Kings. I’d love to be here.”
With the NBA trade deadline just 20 days away, Evans will soon find out if the feeling is mutual.