By Ailene Voisin
Tyreke Evans counts the number of guards on the Kings roster. He hears the persistent trade rumors. He remembers that his bosses refused to extend his contract last fall.
He also is miffed that the organization failed to arrange for a second opinion on his sore left knee, leaving his brothers and his agent to schedule a visit with Lakers orthopedist Dr. Steve Lombardo.
Without issuing any trade demands – that's not his style – Evans said he would be neither shocked nor devastated if he were sent elsewhere before the Feb. 21 deadline.
No tears. No fuss. No regrets.
No more pain. That's his main deal.
"The Kings need to do whatever they can to help the team win," said Evans, who played Monday after missing 11 games with soreness in his left knee. "I just want to go out there and play every night. That visit to (Lombardo)? That let me know that I wasn't totally wrong. I just need to get treated right. That was pretty much it."
These next several weeks will be interesting. Kings officials have no intention of trading center DeMarcus Cousins despite rampant speculation to the contrary.
Additionally, while Cousins' new agent, Dan Fegan, met with Kings basketball president Geoff Petrie earlier Monday and expressed concerns about the roster and the organization's direction, no trade demands were issued.
In terms of movable assets, salary cap considerations, and shaking up the roster, that means the next man up is Evans. Having passed last fall on offering an extension, the Kings next summer can tender a one-year, $6.9 million qualifying offer that would make their fourth-year veteran a restricted free agent.
The options would then include negotiating a new deal, allowing Evans to solicit other offers and matching the terms (a figure probably somewhere between $10 million and $12 million per season), or pursuing a sign-and-trade with another club.
Despite the Kings' assorted issues, among them an unbalanced roster that features an abundance of small guards, a lack of perimeter shooting and frontcourt shot blocking/rebounding, and the confounding inability to acquire a quality facilitator – and that remains issue No. 1 – Petrie can ill afford another damaging personnel move; there is never a time to panic.
Trading Evans for aging, declining veterans, or worse, for other players who hear "pass" and immediately think "four-letter word," would be an absolute arena emptier.
But the Kings should be – and they definitely are – willing to listen. Given the inordinate number of injuries suffered by players on contending teams, a healthy Evans will generate more interest by the day.
The Memphis Grizzlies, who are aggressively attempting to shed payroll and are shopping small forward Rudy Gay, have made inquiries. The Lakers and Denver Nuggets have long been intrigued. So have the Boston Celtics.
There is a major caveat here – health. What about that left knee?
Evans has complained of swelling and discomfort since colliding with Minnesota's Andrei Kirilenko on Nov. 27. An MRI revealed no structural damage. An exam and X-rays taken during his recent visit to Lombardo didn't reveal any loose bone chips or cartilage issues, either.
Yet Evans sat out 16 of 20 games before returning Monday night against the Grizzlies, delaying any potential deal and raising questions about his market value.
Asked whether he wanted to remain with the Kings or welcomed a trade, the soft-spoken Evans sounded receptive to either outcome. In a surprising admission, he also said his uncertain contract status led him to approach rehabilitation with unusual caution.
"Definitely," he said, forcefully. "That's why I sat out so many games. I wasn't going to come back until I was ready, near 100 percent. You have to think about that. But the knee feels good now, it doesn't hurt. I just want to get back out there and start playing like I can."
Getting the 6-foot-6, 220-pound Evans back into game shape is the first priority. He is noticeably thicker, and to use coach Keith Smart's word, was "panting" during his return against the Grizzlies.
Before colliding with the wiry Kirilenko, Evans was in exceptional shape and playing the best all-around basketball of his career.
After two ill-conceived seasons as a point guard and most of last season at small forward, he began to thrive at two-guard – cutting underneath, moving without the ball, defending the perimeter, scoring on quick hits and familiar court-length bursts.
No, whatever happens, Evans is an accomplished player. But an NBA star? That takes time and sustained excellence, and it requires proof of health. He has to stay on the court.