To understand just how big a deal Evans was, consider my first interaction with Evans almost a decade ago, when I covered a game between Evans' American Christian Academy and powerhouse Episcopal in Philadelphia. After the game, I pulled aside Gerald Henderson and Wayne Ellington — blue-chip recruits and future NBA players — to interview for my story, and chatted for a few minutes as they stood there sweating through their gray-and-blue sweats. That was the way it worked with every other high school athlete I ever encountered. But after a half-hour of waiting while Evans' handlers cut off access to their prized player, the circle of hangers-on finally broke and a man who introduced himself as Evans' uncle loomed over my shoulder as Evans and I spoke.
That would have been unsettling, had I not been hung up on the thought that a kid who was not old enough to buy a pack of cigarettes had "handlers." I understood that was and is the reality in prep hoops these days, but it still strikes me as ludicrous. Call me old-fashioned.
At one point, the "uncle" cut me off midsentence as I asked a mundane question about what advantages Henderson and Ellington, being 12th graders, had over the then-sophomore. No matter that these star prospects, headed for Duke and North Carolina, respectively, had two years of elite high school experience over Evans. Any suggestion that Evans was not the undisputed best player whenever he stepped on the court would not be tolerated.
Such a thought is preposterous now, of course. With a report that the Sacramento Kings will not offer Evans a contract extension, the one-time phenom and former Rookie of the Year continued his slow slide into averageness. What could be the Kings' final season in Sacramento may also be Evans' final season as anything more than an NBA role player. And that would be a shame, because it does not have to happen.
Evans has not so much gotten worse since his 2009-10 campaign (when Blake Griffin's broken left kneecap opened the door for Evans to take top rookie honors) as he has simply failed to improve. His scoring average steadily declined from 20.1 points to 17.8 points to 16.5 points in his three professional seasons, which is what tends to happen when opponents gather more information and a player fails to adjust. He became a man without a position when he was moved from point guard to shooting guard and then to small forward, and again his inability to adapt caused further regression.
This happens often with studs who are crowned prematurely, from Ronnie Fields to Darius Miles to Omar Cook and beyond. When what worked against other 16-year-olds does not work against grown men, some players follow the route of O.J. Mayo or Tyson Chandler, who revamped their games to become something less than superstars but still excellent pros. Others keep doing the same old stuff, banging their heads against the wall while their numbers slide until one day, their agents start calling around and realize no teams are interested in signing their clients.
On ability alone, Evans should be around for a while. He is a 6-foot-6, 220-pound 23-year-old with guard skills who once averaged more than 20 points per game while shooting better than 45 percent from the field. He will not be the focal point for this year's Kings, whose centerpiece is DeMarcus Cousins, along with promising rookie Thomas Robinson and breakout second-year point guard Isaiah Thomas. If DeShawn Stevenson could reinvent himself as a deep-bench defensive stopper, though, the vastly more talented Evans can evolve into something a little more substantive.
In that way, Evans may have more in common with Ben Gordon or Jason Terry than with any of his one-and-done college brethren. Gordon and Terry were high-scoring guards whose contributions in other areas were lacking, so they made themselves into stellar sixth men. That may seem like a low aim for a player once billed as a future MVP, but it is a reachable one. After that, maybe, he can move on to becoming the next McGrady.