Fans welcome former Kings star
“Now that I’m back in the starting lineup, I’m going to try to play hard every night and get it going.” TYREKE EVANS, Pelicans swingman
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Tyreke Evans returned to Sacramento, where he played his first four NBA seasons, on Monday night for the second time since his sign and trade with the Pelicans in the offseason.
Evans, the fourth pick in the 2009 draft, at one time was the face of the Kings franchise. He completed his rookie season averaging 20.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 5.8 assists. In doing so, he became the fourth player in NBA history behind Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James to average at least 20-5-5 in their first season.
“You’re going to have emotion, especially when you have a certain connection to a team and an organization,” Kings forward Jason Thompson said of Evans’ return Monday.
Did Evans feel that emotion in his initial return Dec. 23?
“The last game, I did,” Evans said. “I played here four years, so I know what the rim is like, I’m comfortable with the basket.”
“He got drafted here, he won rookie of the year here, so it has a certain type of emotion, especially when you think of how few guys who have won rookie of the year that are not still with that team a couple of years later,” Thompson said. “It usually doesn’t happen that way, but it’s the business of basketball.”
Five of the past six rookies of the year are still with the franchise that drafted them, with Evans the exception. The previous eight rookies of the year before Evans won it in 2009-10 all stayed with their original teams for at least their first five NBA seasons.
Evans knows that it’s quite a transition going from being a franchise’s star to predominantly a bench piece, but he’s trying to make the most of his opportunities.
“It’s a little difficult,” Evans said. “I came in not as a starter, and now I’m trying to establish myself more in that role, and also coming off the bench and trying to make it work for my team. Now that I’m back in the starting lineup, I’m going to try to play hard every night and get it going.”
Evans responded to his new starting role the past two games of this Mardi Gras five-game road trip by averaging 18 points, seven rebounds, and 4.5 assists in losses to the Suns and Clippers.
Evans is averaging 21 points against his old team this season in two previous meetings, including a 25-point, 12-assist performance in his initial return to Sacramento on Dec. 23. So is there something about playing against his former teammates that gets the juices flowing?
“I just know that it’s always fun playing against them and coming back here playing in front of the fans,” Evans said.
Sacramento has had massive retooling and changes in management and ownership the past few years but maintains a strong fan base. Ownership has gone from the George Maloof family to entrepreneur Vivek Ranadive with a Sacramento ownership group.
Evans enjoys coming back to Sleep Train Arena, Sacramento’s sunny weather, and the response from his old fans.
“They are good fans,” Evans said. “I enjoyed them for four years, and they’ve always been good to me, it’s always fun coming back and playing in front of them.”
Many of the fans Monday shared a similar sentiment toward Evans.
“Any player who leaves us, they always get an ovation,” Kings season-ticket holder Penny Bissell said.
“They’re still ours, and they still belong to us,” said Amy Mathis, another season-ticket holder.
“That’s probably got to be hard for him,” Kings fan Demetrius Ramsey said of Evans’ transition to less playing time in New Orleans. “He was the man here. So for him to go to that reserve role, he’s got to be feeling it.”
Mathis still has an Evans Sacramento Kings jersey, and she is wishing him well in his time with the Pelicans.
“We’re hoping the best for him, he’s the sweetest guy on the court,” Mathis said.
“He would do anything for the fans and the team, and that’s what we like about him.”