It's been a really slow week for stories about the Kings, so I guess I'll have to make one up myself. Tyreke Evans, as some might have heard, is heading into restricted free agency this summer, quite possibly as a member of the [Sacramento|TBD] Kings. Regardless of the signature on the bottom of Tyreke's paycheck next year, we've had a fairly robust debate as to how much someone might pay Evans to play basketball next year [and the years beyond].
We all know Evans' strengths and weaknesses and as does everyone else around the league: excellent open-court player, versatile defender with lock-down potential, terrible jump-shooter who struggles in the half-court set and often seems lost without the ball in his hands. He can be a bit injury-prone and his lack of progress since his rookie year has been frustrating, especially since every game he seems to have one or two plays on either end that hint at superstar potential.
There were early thoughts that Team Blueprint was hoping to land a max-deal and would settle for nothing less.
This past July, when Nicolas Batum was rumored around $50M for 4 years and eventually settled in at $46M/4, I think there was a general feeling here that Tyreke was probably going to be about the same--about $12M/year.
There was a surprising late flurry of extensions signed on Oct. 31--the last day for 2009 draftees to sign contract extensions. Ty Lawson ($48M / 4 years), Stephen Curry ($44M / 4 years), Jrue Holiday ($41M / 4 years), and DeMar DeRozan ($38M / 4 years) all re-signed in the same neighborhood; James Harden moved to Houston and signed a $80M / 5 year MAX deal.
With all these late extensions, there might have been a thought that the Kings missed an opportunity to hedge against a Harden-like breakout and lock in Tyreke at a bargain price [somewhere around Curry's numbers]. Maloof financial woes notwithstanding, it seems both Evans and management were happy to roll the dice. It appeared however, that DeRozan's contract set the floor for Evans next summer--there was no way he couldn't get at LEAST DeRozan's contract.
Two weeks into the season, Tyreke's jumper was still broken... and Bradford Doolittle of Basketball Prospectus wrote in a Nov. 13 ESPN Insider article:
In the two months since that article, Evans has missed 16 of 28 games due to injury. He's been better since the slow shooting start that prompted Doolittle to question whether Evans was worth a one-year qualifying offer at $6.9M. But in a January 10th Grantland article about the Kings' ledger sheet, Zach Lowe drops the bar even further:
Evans might be headed for the O.J. Mayo restricted free-agency experience, where a glittery name carrying a stalled game finds a cool market and accepts a short-term deal at a cheap salary. And if teams think they can get Evans for $4 million or $5 million per season in July, why trade for him now?
Mayo signed a 2-year (2nd is player option) $8M offer with Dallas this summer after Memphis declined to make a qualifying offer at $7.4M. Beyond the similarity in pedigree with Evans [top 5-pick, very promising rookie campaign, stalled/sideways development thereafter], the Mayo comparison is especially apt considering that last summer the Memphis franchise was at a similar ownership crossroads and faced payroll issues [albeit the Grizzlies' problem was luxury tax-based wheras the Kings' problem is owners-are-broke-and-trying-to-sell-based]. Memphis, still $4M over the tax this year, felt they could replace Mayo's production with a cheaper Tony Allen/Wayne Ellington combo--and are still riding high at 24-10 (.706).
No, the Kings don't have the same talent as Memphis, but they are 8-8 when Evans does not play and 5-15 when he does. Even discounting the beat-downs at home (10 min played in the 122-97 loss to Denver 12/16 and 13 min played in the 113-81 loss to Memphis 1/7) which book-end his injury absence, the Kings are still 8-10 with and 5-13 without. This post is not intended as a deep-dive into advanced metrics or a screed against broke-ownership, but it's hard to see how Tyreke makes a difference on this team when they play just as capably when a 3rd-string/replacement-level player in Francisco Garcia fills those minutes. In all likelihood, Garcia's $6.4M team option for next year will not be picked up, and while many of us figured Garcia's salary slot would be swallowed by Tyreke's extension, Zach Lowe is the first to suggest there might be money left over.
Needless to say, it's going to be an important 3 months for the future bank accounts of Tyreke Evans and the TBD owners of the NBA-franchise-currently-operating-as-the-Sacramento Kings.