MikeCheck on Grizzlies: Awaiting trade, Tyreke Evans ‘happy with what I was able to do’ to revive career in Memphis
DETROIT – As Memphis executives sort through trade scenarios involving leading scorer Tyreke Evans, the Grizzlies pressed forward on a four-game trip with Thursday’s stop to face a new-look Pistons team that executed the biggest blockbuster move of the season ... so far.
Superstar power forward Blake Griffin made his Detroit debut against the Grizzlies on Thursday, three days after he was acquired by the Pistons as the centerpiece of a trade that also sent Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Meanwhile, the Grizzlies are in the midst of their own major adjustment in anticipation of a trade being finalized in the coming days. Evans left the team at the request of general manager Chris Wallace moments before the start of Wednesday’s 105-101 loss in Indiana as trade discussions with multiple teams intensified.
Evans, who did not travel with the Grizzlies to Detroit for Thursday’s game, told Grind City Media he spoke with Wallace and was under the impression he would be heading to a team in playoff contention.
“I really don’t know how it’s going to turn out, but I’ve heard there’s a lot of interest out there for me, and that’s a good thing,” Evans said as he exited Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indiana on Wednesday night. “The season hasn’t gone that great, the way we wanted, but I’ve been happy in Memphis and with what I was able to do to help this team.”
The Grizzlies entered Thursday’s game with a 18-32 record and apparently have shifted their focus to trying to develop younger rotation players, acquiring assets and retooling the team through the draft and free agency for next season. After a promising start to the season, the Grizzlies endured an 11-game losing streak, fired coach David Fizdale in November and have been ravaged by injuries to key players.
You know it’s part of the business. You just make the best of the situation.-- Tyreke Evans
The move to sit out Evans as the Feb. 8 trade deadline looms came on the same day Grizzlies’ star point guard Mike Conley underwent season-ending surgery to repair damage to his left Achilles’ heel. Conley had not played since Nov. 13 and was limited to only 12 games coming off a career season in 2016-17. Additionally, forward Chandler Parsons has been out since Dec. 27 with knee soreness and nearly half of the Grizzlies’ roster has been listed on the injury report in recent games.
Wallace addressed the current direction in a letter to season-ticket holders last week.
“We are committed to playing hard and playing the right way night in and night out, while developing our young talent and instilling within them the winning culture we have built in Memphis,” Wallace wrote. “Beyond our play on the court the rest of this year, we will remain aggressive in evaluating opportunities to improve … through player development, the NBA draft, free agency or trades.”
Because things have gotten off track, Memphis is on the verge of parting with one of the few bright spots of its season. Evans is averaging 19.5 points, five rebounds and five assists while shooting 39.2 percent on threes through 46 games in his most efficient season since he was 2010 Rookie of the Year.
That level of production made Evans arguably the best bargain signing of the free-agency period last summer when the Grizzlies snagged him on a one-year, $3.3 million deal. But Evans’ production on that contract also makes one of the top trade targets ahead of the deadline for teams in need of a perimeter playmaker and scorer to bolster depth and add punch for a playoff run. The Grizzlies are believed to be seeking a first-round pick in any potential deal for Evans, who will again enter free agency this summer.
“This is part of the business,” Evans told Grind City Media. “You understand that as a player, and you just continue to do the best you can do and wait for everything else to play out. I talked to Chris (Wallace) and he told me what the situation was, and that he was happy with everything I was able to come here and try to do. All I know is that if I have to move on, I’m going to end up on a team that’s going to the playoffs and I’ll have a chance to contribute, hopefully the way I have here.”
Evans, 28, said he was thankful Memphis allowed him to show he was capable of being an elite player for the second time in his career. The first time came when he starred for one season at the University of Memphis before he was drafted by Sacramento with the fourth overall pick in 2009, coincidentally three spots after the Clippers selected Griffin at No. 1 overall.
Those two wouldn't cross paths on the court Thursday. But Evans said his personal goal this season was to prove he was finally healthy and could be a force again after enduring three knee surgeries over a span of 10 months during stints with the Pelicans and Kings before he hit free agency last summer.
“That’s all I wanted to do, was come and show I’m back to being Tyreke Evans that came into the league, back to being me,” Evans said. “I knew that if I was healthy, I would be able to play really well and show what I can do again. Here, they gave me the opportunity to put myself back in this position. I’m thankful for the Grizzlies and the city. The rest is just part of the business and you make the best of it if you can.”
Evans is one of four veterans on the team who are playing on contracts that expire at the end of the season, which also makes them potential trade assets. And like Evans, veterans Mario Chalmers, Brandan Wright and James Ennis III have also been traded previously in their careers.
Grizzlies interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff acknowledged that the days leading to the trade deadline present some challenging distractions for all sides.
“Most guys, whether they’ve been traded or not – unless they’re in just a miserable situation – they don’t want to be traded,” Bickerstaff said. “For the most part, the trade deadline is a rocky time. People like their teammates, like where they live, their families are in good places. So all that comes into play. The more you think about it, the worse it gets. You’ve just got to focus every day on the task at hand.”
Marc Gasol was hopeful that Evans would remain an essential complement to a core the Grizzlies had in place. Initially, Evans was viewed as the ideal combo guard to help Conley, Parsons and Gasol and also boost a bench that was one of the most productive in the league through the first weeks of the season.
But soon, injuries and losses piled up. And the outlook changed.
“I thought he was a great piece,” Gasol said of Evans. “I think he brings tremendous things to us. I wish he stayed with us because, if we’re trying to be a good team next year, you need guys like that coming off the bench or whatever role you find for him. Every good team has a guy like Tyreke coming off the bench. I don’t know what’s going to happen … but we as players, we have to concentrate on things we need to do on the floor and let the other issues be handled by the front office and ownership.”
Evans stepped aside to await the next move with gratitude and no hard feelings.
“None at all,” Evans said. “You know it’s part of the business. You just make the best of the situation.”
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.