He hasn't quite sunk to the depths of his injury-addled second year with the Sacramento Kings, but former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans hasn't been making much noise in Sacto of late. Once lauded for his all-around offensive play, the guard's decision-making and seemingly stagnant growth rate have frustrated Kings fans to no end; even if they don't (and should not) blame the guard for the team's struggles. And though she doesn't quote an anonymous source in her report, Sacramento Bee columnist Ailene Voisin confirmed on Sunday that the Kings "will entertain trade offers" for the guard this summer, as he enters the final guaranteed year of his rookie contract in 2012-13.
That's a sad, almost unprecedented scene. Rare is the player on a relatively cheap-o (Evans is set to make $5.25 million next year, nearly the league's average salary) rookie deal that is tossed around on the trading block.
And yet, though Evans is clearly to blame for not diversifying his game and building on an impressive rookie year that saw him rank among Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James as the only rookies to average over 20 points, five rebounds and five assists, you can blame environment as much as you can blame the individual. Evans, whose iffy on-court habits were condoned in a major way by former coach Paul Westphal, wasn't exactly brought up the right way.
It's Tyreke's fault as well, you know. Chicago Bulls guard and fellow "one and done"/John Calipari-product Derrick Rose was also handed the keys to his team's offense and however many possessions he wanted to dominate upon entering the NBA a year before Evans hit in 2009-10, and he's proven perfectly adept at working off the ball and mixing up scoring and passing instincts. Evans, though much more inclined to act as a wing scorer than Rose is (for good reason, considering his size), hasn't built on that rookie year in the same way that Rose did.
And though we can blame a series of ankle woes for his below-average sophomore campaign, the fact that Evans is currently coming through with a 16.3 Player Efficiency Rating (just a tick above the average mark) as the Kings enter their final game of the season on Thursday night is frustrating for the average fan, and it has to be disappointing for the typical Kings fan. The ones who have had to deal with endless turnover and no real Rose-type hope (in spite of DeMarcus Cousins' significant turnaround in his second season) since Chris Webber's career-altering injury in the early summer of 2003.
Voisin, as well she should, doesn't hesitate to point the finger at both Evans and Westphal for this stasis:
Excluding the fact that Evans was miscast as the Kings' primary ballhandler during his first two seasons — and that's on former coach Paul Westphal — almost everything about him has yet to be determined. His confidence wavers worse than his jumper. He is uncomfortable in the halfcourt offense and confused about when to cut and when to move. Too often, he admits, he just stands around.
Mind you, it's not as if Derrick Rose is bounding around the court without the ball, acting as some modern day John Havlicek. Chris Paul isn't acting like much of a decoy without the rock, and Deron Williams hasn't let go of an actual basketball since sometime in 2009.
Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have, though. And while we rip on Kobe and LeBron for dominating the dribble too much when they could make a difference on the weak side, those players do move, cut, screen and freak out defenders even when the ball isn't in their hands. Though Evans was passed off as a proto point/shooting guard in his rookie year, he's essentially an off guard who knows how to make the extra pass when things get hairy. Most shooting guards are, these days, because they often grew up in the AAU or high school circuit with the ball in their hands. Good for Tyreke, with those instincts, but these instincts never made him a point guard.
And this is where the frustration — as his per-minute free-throw attempts dip and usage rate (read: ability to do the damn thing) decline in his third season — sets in. Yes, the ankles were clearly in the way last year, and the lockout season has stunk for us all, but this is a 22-year-old talent that hasn't seemed to move an inch since LeBron James 45th-to-last game as a Cleveland Cavalier.
This is why, according to Voisin, a team currently eight figures below the salary cap level and a potential $20 million under the cap this summer will be listening to trade offers for a player with 20-5-5 potential that will make less than the mid-level exception next season.
Paul Westphal, fired early in the season, obviously saw Evans as his hook. A way to sustain a job through a rebuilding process, working for a Kings front office that has no qualms going cheap even while dismissing coach after coach after coach. With his franchise friend in place, he gave Evans the ball in a rebuilding year, and let him do what he wanted to do with it. It wasn't a ridiculous move, aligning yourself with a player that counts MJ, The Big O, and LeBron amongst his first-year company.
Even Westphal, though, could see that Evans' statistical marvels were a function of his role. He had the ball, in that rookie year, and got to do whatever he wanted with it for however long he wanted to on a 25-win team. Evans wasn't selfish in his approach, he just didn't know any better. And an extended standing ovation from the hometown fans, once you meet the raw number requirements for that 20-5-5 year, have a way of messing with your head. Sometimes you can be spoiled even when your parents don't have much in the bank account.
Kings fans shouldn't welcome or even anticipate an Evans trade. His potential, for that price, is too much to give away. But his two-year malaise should serve as a warning to any team ready to give the ball up. You don't rebuild through awards and statistical triumphs. No matter how impressive.