SACRAMENTO, Calif. – It turned personal at the strangest of times, with a couple minutes remaining between two lottery-bound teams and about 10,000 people, if that, watching on a rainy night.
Tyreke Evans heard someone on the Raptors bench – he thinks injured forward Landry Fields – shout “Hell no!” as Evans lined up a three-pointer in a tight game Wednesday.
Evans connected from a few feet away from the visitors and gave a long, punctuating stare.
Next Kings possession, same thing. He heard “Leave him open!” as the Raptors did just that, backing off in understandable strategy. Evans hit again and stared again. He said something too, a message that very possibly included a word beginning with F.
“Maybe so,” Evans said later, smiling.
Vindication and the baskets that turned a 95-95 tie into an eventual 107-100 victory. Yes, this is a good run.
Evans has scored 27, 20 and, most recently, 23 points his last three games, a streak interrupted only by the bruised left knee that cost him two contests before the return to exchange holiday greetings with the Raptors. He is shooting 50 percent. He is sticking to a commitment to defense that started in training camp to regularly check two positions a night and is on alert that a three – both backcourt spots and small forward – is possible. He gets the opponent’s biggest scoring threat on the wing as long as it is not a small point guard.
Of course Toronto played it right Wednesday. Maybe not the trash-talking part, but Evans had made six three-pointers all season, for a 27.3-percent success rate. Everybody knows to go into prevent defense and collapse around the lane when he gets the ball on the perimeter, because Evans will put his head down and barrel to the rim. That he made the Raptors pay for doing nothing wrong is the flashing bright light of exactly how good he is going.
These are the moments, however brief, that remind of Evans as Rookie of the Year, either three seasons or a lifetime ago, of why he may still be an integral part of the rebuilding puzzle. Or of why he could still be traded.
The topic is on the clock, especially when he plays like this, because the sides did not reach an agreement on an extension to Evans’ rookie contract by Oct. 31, putting him on schedule to become a restricted free agent on July 1. The decision made perfect sense for the Kings – he was regressing, had no position, and no certain place in the future, and to spend big to lock him up before the Halloween deadline would have been ill-advised.
The decision also raised the stakes on trade considerations, because now it was possible to see them losing a starter for nothing in July, if another team reaches deep enough for an offer sheet the Kings do not match. (To say they could simply sign-and-trade their way into a return is an oversimplification. Team X may not offer any assets Sacramento wants, and the Kings certainly won’t take bad contracts back.) He could stay in the summer with a new deal, he could leave without compensation or he could leave in a swap, but new rookie extension means new uncertainty.
Potential suitors won’t be swayed by a few games set against seasons, plural, of Evans trying to find his way while backsliding from a dynamic rookie season. But it will attract some eyes. So will a few more fourth-quarter Hell no! jumpers.
The truth, though, is that his real value would be as a point guard, and that isn’t going to happen. Maybe another team sees the potential to coach him into a permanent starter, thinking it can work past the endless moments of Evans driving into three defenders waiting in the lane and passing to no one. The Kings had the same vision when they took him at No. 4 in 2009, still a pretty good pick, of someone 6 foot 6 and 220 pounds with the speed and ability to immediately run past and through most grown men. In Sacramento, though, Aaron Brooks has the job and Evans is a swingman.
Playing point guard was the entire hook. Strong, fast shooting guards and small forwards are not unique, and shooting guards and small forwards without a perimeter game, when everyone knows to play them for the drive, don’t bring a lot in return. That is the unavoidable part of the Evans predicament that can’t be stared down.