SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The days of C-Webb and Vlade are over. The clanging cowbells, those wild playoff runs into May – memories of a better time. For the Sacramento Kings, today's reality is this: They play in an old, half-empty arena, lack a transcendent superstar (in spite of Kevin Martin's(notes) talents) and pile up losses like the franchise once did in those dreary red-white-and-blue days.
The Kings aren't going to challenge for a championship anytime soon, or even the Western Conference's eighth and final playoff spot. What they need, more than anything, is hope. And the franchise's co-owner, Gavin Maloof, believes he's found it in a 20-year-old from Pennsylvania.
"I'm tired of all the negativity about this franchise," Maloof told Kings fans on the night the team drafted Evans. "It's changing – and it changes today."
If that sounds like wishful thinking, it is. The Kings won just 17 games last season, and there are more than a few people around the league who wonder whether their current team can win even that many. Evans might be the new face of the franchise, but he isn't a miracle worker. The teenager from suburban Philadelphia has enough of a challenge in trying to adapt to the NBA, the point-guard position and a new life far from home. Converting the league's worst team into a playoff contender overnight isn't going to happen.
Hope, however, isn't always measured in wins and losses. The Kings – and, just as important, their fans – need a reason to believe that better days are ahead. Evans looks like he has the potential to give them that.
"They expect me to come here and be a good player," Evans said, "and help change the franchise around."
While their love affair with Evans grows by the days, many Kings fans initially were unsold on whether the franchise should use the fourth overall pick on him over Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio(notes). It was Rubio who had the flashy game that reminded fans of Jason "White Chocolate" Williams, the franchise's former playmaker who thrilled crowds with his wild passing. Rubio, the thinking went, would sell more tickets than Evans. He'd appear in more highlight clips. He could be marketed internationally.
While Kings fans were split over the decision, the franchise's leaders weren't. They looked even wiser for their choice after Evans played well in summer league and Rubio eventually decided to stay in Spain for two more years rather than play in Minnesota.
"I heard people say they wanted Ricky Rubio," Evans said. "There were people that said they wanted me. People have opinions every day.
"I came here and showed them that I can work out at point guard. That's probably the main reason why they picked me."
Said new Kings coach Paul Westphal: "I definitely didn't think it was a debate. Rubio has a chance to be a fine player. But for what we needed, Tyreke was the clear choice."
The Kings obviously need a lot more than Evans. They have one of the league's top shooting guards in Kevin Martin, but injuries limited him to 51 games last season. Starting small forward Francisco Garcia(notes) could miss the entire season with an arm fracture after a freak weight-lifting accident. Big men Jason Thompson(notes) and Spencer Hawes(notes) both have intriguing potential but are far from proven. Forward Andres Nocioni(notes) is a tough, hard-nosed pro but will have his patience tested by the young team. The rest of the roster is filled with journeymen and youngsters.
As for Evans? He, too, is headed for some rough nights.
"I've never lost that much, ever," Evans said. "The most I lost is like six games [in his senior year in high school]. It's hard. You go out there and play hard every night and you come out with a loss – that's the worst. You go out there for nothing."
The Kings can appreciate the attitude, but what they want to see from their young point guard is development. With Evans' rare size, athleticism and strength – he measures 6-foot-6, 220 pounds – it's understandable why the Kings are so feverish about him. Already, he can bull and dart into the lane like few guards in the league. He plays with a confident swagger and is quickly earning the respect of his teammates.
The ongoing adjustment to point guard won't be easy. Evans averaged 15.1 points and 4.7 assists in seven preseason games, but he also was tied for the league lead with four turnovers per game. In his preseason finale against the Utah Jazz, he totaled seven turnovers to four assists.
Still, Evans hasn't needed long to prove his worth. He scored 22 points in the Kings' second game of the season – a near-upset of the New Orleans Hornets. Yes, he committed all three of his turnovers in the final quarter, but it also was his jump shot that put the Kings ahead with less than three minutes left.
"We want to show confidence in him," Westphal said. "We think he can handle it."
"I just feel like with the ball in my hands, 98 percent of the time something good can happen," he said. "I'm going to do my best to create and give people the ball when they're open."
But what about when Evans himself is open? The rookie still has a lot of work to do on his shot. He shot 44.1 percent from the field during the preseason and a dismal 23.1 percent from 3-point range. In the Kings' season opener, he missed 11 of 16 shots.
The team has assigned famed coach Pete Carril to work with Evans. Their goal is to change the release on Evans' shot so that he lets the ball go in front of his face rather than by his ear. Evans calls the transition "a work in progress."
"It's not as good as it's going to be," Westphal said. "He's working on it. There are a lot of guys who can get to the basket and, in doing so, they don't work on their shot until later. That describes Tyreke."
If Evans continues to progress as much as the Kings think he can, he'll give the franchise a foundation to build upon. No one doubts his talent, and the fans love him already. Maybe, just maybe, he'll also give the NBA reason to pay attention to the franchise once more.
"He's willing to learn," Martin said. "With any first-year guy, especially for someone at the age of 19 being the fourth overall pick, it comes with a lot of pressure and responsibility. He looks like he has the mentality to handle it well."
For that, the Kings can hope.
- The Kings