After earning Rookie of the Year honors for his contributions during the opening salvos of his career – over future two-time league MVP Stephen Curry, no less – Tyreke Evans struggled to find that pristine form throughout his next six seasons as a professional.
Injuries and poor shooting hampered his effectiveness, forcing many to wonder if we’d ever see the Year-1 version of Evans again.
The 6-foot-6 ball-handler answered those questions with a resounding yes in 2017-18 as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies.
Averaging 19.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists nightly while slashing impressive 45.2/39.9/78.5 shooting splits, Evans’ career resurgence this season was one of the NBA’s most surprising storylines, and made him one of the league’s hottest commodities around the trade deadline. (Of course, Memphis ended up holding onto its prized asset, but more on that later.)
Now, set to hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent with Bird Rights a non-issue due to the nature of his one-year deal, Evans’ impending free agency will be fascinating to behold.
Will Evans get a long-term, big-money deal from one of the rebuilding organizations with cap space to use (ie, the likes of the Atlanta Hawks, Dallas Mavericks or the Chicago Bulls)? Considering he’s already 28 years old, making his fit with those teams’ timelines awkward, probably not.
More likely, Evans may be forced to take the mid-level exception (MLE) from a contender, since so many of the most competitive teams around the Association project to be capped out in 2018-19. There are a couple of teams, however, with cap space who would make sense as Evans suitors.
We break down Evans’ four likeliest landing spots.
(Note: Two teams who were interested in Evans at the trade deadline, the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics, return a lot of guard/wing depth next season – Miami primarily in the form of Dion Waiters and Boston, Gordon Hayward. As such, though they may have made sense as potential Evans destinations at one point, that likely will no longer be the case.)
Portland Trail Blazers
A contender who could use the extra offensive firepower that Evans would provide, the Portland Trail Blazers, lead off our list.
Though head coach Terry Stotts deserves praise for turning Portland into a borderline-elite defensive unit in the regular season (the Blazers sit ninth in points allowed per 100 possessions at 104.3), the fact his team sat 14th in offensive rating raises eyebrows. After all, two deadly scorers man Portland’s backcourt in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, making the team’s struggles to put the ball through the hoop confounding.
Part of the problem may be the Blazers’ lack of a third reliable scorer. That was supposed to be Jusuf Nurkic‘s role, but his poor finishing around the basket coupled with his propensity to launch long two-pointers make him an inefficient scorer.
Clearly, the Blazers could use the services of another bucket-getter, especially one who can help space the floor for Lillard and McCollum like Evans would be able to.
In 2017-18, the current Grizzly produced 1.08 points per possession (PPP) on spot-up opportunities, a mark healthy enough to place him in the NBA’s 75th percentile. As a team, Portland scored 1.02 PPP on such looks – the No. 16 mark league-wide.
What’s more, the Blazers’ bench ranked 13th in net rating at an all-too-average +0.1, another area Evans could improve if Stotts chooses to keep starting Al-Farouq Aminu and Evan Turner at the two forward spots.
As far as what Portland could offer Evans financially, that’s where things get a bit tricky.
Really, it all depends on whether or not they re-sign Nurkic, who is set to hit restricted free agency this summer. If the Blazers bring the big Bosnian back on a reasonable three-year, $24 million (possible considering how dry the money well is set to be around the NBA this summer), that would push Portland close but just under the projected luxury tax line of $123 million.
If that were to happen, that would leave the Blazers with the standard MLE to offer free agents, which is worth about $8.6 million annually.
Would a two-year, $17.2 million offer be enough to entice Evans?
Considering the landscape for prospective free agents and the fact he’s not that young anymore, it’s entirely possible.
Nevertheless, Portland is going to have to try and get rid of their more questionable contracts this summer, or get stuck with a hard cap after using their non-taxpayer MLE on Evans. Even if they aren’t able to shed bad money, they could also split up their MLE on Evans and another free agent if they felt like they needed to add another body to their roster.
Another team near contention but still lacking a piece or two, the Indiana Pacers would also make some sense as an Evans suitor.
Well, adding the 2017-18 version of Evans could help them get there.
This past regular season, the Pacers were a very good pick-and-roll team as far as scoring out of the ball-handler was concerned, finishing ninth in team efficiency at 0.88 PPP.
Nonetheless, Evans would still improve their prowess in that all-important play type. Only four players with as many opportunities running the pick-and-roll were more effective than Evans in 2017-18, according to Synergy Sports. They were Lillard, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker and LeBron James. Not bad company to be in for the nine-year vet, who produced 0.97 PPP in the aforementioned play type.
What’s more, Indiana is one of the few playoff teams who could offer Evans anything other than the MLE, as the team owes just $75.4 million in salaries for 2018-19. Sure, some of that likely has to go to re-signing their own impending free agents, like Thaddeus Young and Lance Stephenson, but wouldn’t Evans be a clear upgrade over the latter?
Bringing Young back should still leave the Pacers with enough cap space to make a serious run at Evans, provided they believe he could improve their chances of contending next season.
One of the biggest wildcards for summer spending this offseason will be the Philadelphia 76ers. Only one team is set to have more available cap space to use this summer than the Sixers, and that’s the Los Angeles Lakers.
In all likelihood, president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo and Co. will go after some of the top names on the market – the likes of LeBron James and Paul George.
However, if they were to strike out with those two, it wouldn’t be shocking to see them shift their gaze towards secondary targets like Evans, who Philadelphia reportedly already had heavy interest in dating back to the 2018 trade deadline:
Could the return of a healthy Markelle Fultz put a damper on that interest?
Perhaps, but a player of Evans’ caliber still in his prime could help the 76ers immensely regardless.
During the times when the 76ers offense bogged down and scoring would become a struggle (Philadelphia finished 2017-18 ranked 13th in offensive efficiency), the one thing the team lacked was a player who could break down a defense and get to the basket, either to get a bucket himself or set up teammates.
That’s a problem Evans could solve, especially if Fultz isn’t ready to be that player full time as a sophomore.
Additionally, Evans’ spot-up shooting would greatly aid a Sixers team who ranked 20th in that play type in 2017-18, according to Synergy.
To make such a union happen, Philadelphia could repeat what they did with JJ Redick last offseason when they handed the Duke product a salary far exceeding what anyone else was offering at $23 million. A solid payday for the 2-guard to be sure, but one the 76ers were willing to shell out since they were only tying themselves down to Redick for one season in the process.
Pulling the same with Evans, though at a far lower price as his inconsistencies won’t exactly have teams breaking down the door to offer him a max salary (something along the lines of a one-year, $14 million contract is possible), would make a lot of sense.
The Grizzlies have two glaring differences from the other teams that litter the top of the lottery odds.
For one, they’re already capped out for next season due to the huge deals Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and Chandler Parsons are signed to. Most of the other organizations slated to pick early in the 2018 draft have loads of cap space to use this summer.
Secondly, they’re not in the midst of a rebuild like most of their other struggling counterparts. With the pieces the Grizzlies have, provided Conley and Parsons get healthy, playoff contention next season in the stacked Western Conference wouldn’t be just be unsurprising, it may even be expected.
Thus, Memphis shelling out their non-taxpayer MLE to bring the 28-year-old Evans back would not be farfetched.
The Grizzlies refused to trade the former Rookie of the Year for anything other than a first-round pick in February, and followed that up by not buying him out either, even though it would have been inexpensive to do so.
Is it possible Memphis made some sort of promise to Evans regarding his future with the club? Is it totally unfathomable that the Grizzlies would offer Evans their standard MLE for the full four years, a price not many other teams would likely be willing to match?
A four-year, $34.4 million contract would be a nice little payday for Evans at this stage of his career, coming off so many consecutive injury-plagued campaigns. Even a three-year, $25.8 million agreement would be a nice haul for the veteran combo guard, and likely more than he’d get from any other team this summer.
As far as why the Grizzlies would do that knowing full well it would hard cap them for 2018-19, consider that once the team gets healthy with a returning Conley, acquires a new head coach and adds an elite talent at the top of the 2018 NBA Draft (a Luka Doncic/Conley backcourt would be thrilling to watch blossom), they could quickly find themselves contending for a Top 8 seed in the West next season.
Especially if Evans maintains the fantastic form he was on this past campaign.
You can find Frank Urbina on Twitter @frankurbina_.
HoopsHype’s Alberto de Roa contributed to this article.