Tyreke Evans showed up at the Sacramento Kings' practice gym at 4 a.m. one day last month to work on his shooting. Kings officials weren't surprised. Evans has spent much of the offseason in the gym – part of his plan to regain the form he showed his first season in the NBA when he was named Rookie of the Year.
"I've been receiving a lot of criticism about not being healthy and not playing like I did my rookie year," Evans said. "I just want to come back this year and show people I'm still here and that I haven't lost a step."
After averaging 20.1 points, 5.8 assists and 5.3 rebounds as a rookie, Evans' production has dropped each of the past two seasons. He averaged 17.8 points, 5.6 assists and 4.8 rebounds while coping with a foot injury in 2010-11 and then averaged 16.5 points, 4.5 assists and 4.6 rebounds last season.
"I've had injuries; not been in the best shape," Evans said.
This season will be an important one for Evans. The Kings have yet to offer him a contract extension. If they don't extend him, he'll become a restricted free agent after the season.
Evans knows he faces an uncertain future, and has devoted himself this summer to improving his game. He says he's taken just one week off since the end of last season, and this is the first offseason he primarily has worked out in Sacramento. He's played in a couple of pro-am leagues and says he's completely healthy now.
"He's been a lot more focused this summer," Kings general manager Geoff Petrie said. "Part of it is maturing as a player. You kind of forget that he is only 22 years old. He's definitely put in more work and concentration in trying to improve parts of his game. He wants to be thought of as one of the best players in the league."
Some of Evans' workouts have been led by Petrie. The 1971 NBA Rookie of the Year and a two-time All-Star, Petrie averaged 21.8 points in six seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers before his career was cut short by injury. Evans said they've been "working on a little bit of everything." Kings owner Gavin Maloof has also attended some of the workouts.
"I've never had a chance to work with him before," Evans said of Petrie. "He was a good player, a Rookie of the Year, so he knows some things about the game."
Asked about Evans' contract situation, Petrie said: "I don't think it's something on the front burner at this point. Going forward salary cap-wise, we have a lot of flexibility. There are no real concerns about our ability to pay going forward because of our future numbers. The most important thing in the big picture is that Tyreke takes his game to another level. The reward for that is ultimately what's greater in a lot of respects."
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Evans said he won't be too frustrated if he isn't offered a contract before this season. He also said that if he's offered a new deal he'll consult with his brothers before deciding to sign.
"Eventually something would happen," Evans said. "I'm just trying to do whatever I can to get us rolling this year. I've been working on my game. I got a lot to prove. The most important thing is I'm a lot better than I was last year."
Of course, even if Evans re-signs with the Kings, there's no guarantee he'll stay in Sacramento. The franchise could move if a new arena deal isn't struck with the city.
Kings fans often ask Evans about the team's future in Sacramento, but he tells them he knows no more than they do. And after failing to make the playoffs his first three seasons, he's more worried about winning. Even with the addition of rookie forward Thomas Robinson, the Kings will likely be pressed to make the postseason.
"I've been losing ever since I got here," Evans said. "I just want to win games. I've never been a loser."
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