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MikeCheck on Grizzlies: With trade deadline dilemma behind, Tyreke Evans returns to familiar role as Grizzlies reset focus

by Michael Wallace | Grind City Media

MEMPHIS – As the biggest crowd of reporters since preseason media day swarmed Grizzlies’ center Marc Gasol after Friday’s practice, the team captain posed a question of his own to the group.

“Who did we trade for?” Gasol joked. “Had to be somebody big.”

All the fuss surrounding the Grizzlies on Friday wasn’t about anyone they acquired by Thursday afternoon’s festive NBA trade deadline. Instead, it was about the player Memphis stunningly decided to keep after sorting through multiple trade offers in recent days and weeks.

The Grizzlies held onto leading scorer Tyreke Evans, who returned for Friday’s workout in his familiar No. 12 blue practice jersey as the team prepared for Sunday’s road game against Oklahoma City. Evans returned to Memphis late Thursday night after being away from the Grizzlies for more than a week. He was removed from the team during pregame warmups before a Jan. 31 loss in Indiana and sent home as trade discussions intensified in the week leading to Thursday’s deadline.

The Grizzlies were believed to be seeking a first-round pick in any potential deal for Evans and bypassed lesser reported offers from teams that included Denver, Boston and Washington to instead keep the ninth-year veteran. Evans is in the midst of his most efficient season, averaging 19.5 points, five rebounds and five assists while shooting nearly 40 percent from three-point range.

As the Grizzlies shift their focus to trying to re-sign Evans when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in the offseason, Evans turned his attention to reconnecting with a team he thought he was leaving.

Tyreke Evans

“I always wanted to stay here – it’s not like I asked for a trade or anything,” Evans said. “It didn’t happen, so I’m here. I definitely was put in a situation where I thought I was going to be traded. Everybody knows it’s a business … so I’m definitely happy to be back.”

The Grizzlies (18-36) are on a five-game losing streak, longest among Western Conference teams entering Friday night, and have lost all eight games Evans has missed this season. Evans, who last played in a 120-109 home win over the Suns on Jan. 29, is expected to see action Sunday against OKC.

It’s been an awkward situation for both Evans and the Grizzlies, but general manager Chris Wallace insisted the trades on the table leading to the deadline simply weren’t enticing enough to part ways with a talent as impactful as Evans. Barring any other major movement once trades can resume after the season and heading into the June NBA draft, the Grizzlies are in position to offer Evans up to a four-year deal for the mid-level exception that includes a first-year salary of $8.5 million for the 2018-19 season.

Evans is playing out a one-year, $3.3 million deal he signed with the Grizzlies last July on the heels of injury-plagued stints with the Pelicans and Kings that included three knee surgeries in 10 months.

There’s no late second-round pick that’s going to average 19 points a game for you next year.
-- General Manager Chris Wallace

“We felt that the offers weren’t sufficient for a player of Tyreke’s caliber, and they particularly weren’t sufficient when weighed against the decision to have him here for the rest of the season,” Wallace said Friday. “There’s no late second-round pick that’s going to average 19 points a game for you next year.”

The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement prevent teams and players from publicly discussing or agreeing in principle to future contracts other than in cases of specific extensions of current contracts. Extending Evans’ current one-year contract is not an option for either the player or the team.

However, Wallace suggested Memphis is a place where Evans can continue to thrive. The city also represents a comfortable fit for the combo guard who also starred in college for one season at the University of Memphis before he was drafted fourth overall by Sacramento and was named NBA Rookie of the Year after the 2009-2010 season.

The Grizzlies are hoping Evans embraces the opportunity he’s had in Memphis this season to revive his career and potentially moves forward alongside Gasol and a healthy Mike Conley and Chandler Parsons.

“There’s a human element to this,” Wallace added. “We want to keep going with Tyreke. It’s been a great relationship so far. He’s been extremely productive so far. He’s happy here. This has been the best time for him since he’s been in the NBA. It also rekindles the memories of playing with the (Memphis) Tigers. There’s an awful lot going for him here, and I think there’s a real big benefit for him being here.”

Tyreke Evans

There’s also a risk that comes with holding onto Evans through the trade deadline and then losing him in free agency without having acquired any assets or developmental players for him in return. Evans said he’s been happy in Memphis, but will focus on his future options in the offseason. Evans did mention Friday the three-year, $24 million extension guard Lou Williams signed last week to stay with the Clippers after his name had also been widely circulated in potential trades.

“I started here in Memphis and they gave me a chance to get my game back to where it needed to be, let me play the game I liked to play,” Evans said. “We’re just going to have to wait until the end of the (season) and see what happens. Lou signed a deal that he liked to play on in L.A., so we’ll have to see.”

On the other hand, interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff doesn’t foresee any problems reintegrating Evans. Both Bickerstaff and Wallace downplayed the notion that having a productive Evans back on the court this season would be counterproductive to maximizing the team’s position in the draft lottery.

Bickerstaff expects Evans to pick up where he left off.

You put a ball in his hand and give him an opportunity to hoop and he hoops. You give him a ball and tell him to go play at the park, he’ll go try to get 25 or 30 at the park. It’s just his nature. For some people, you might be worried about the effects that this has. But with Tyreke, I don’t worry about him being in his feelings some sort of way. So I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a big output on Sunday.
-- Coach Bickerstaff

“His temperament is that not much bothers him,” Bickerstaff said of any readjustments Evans may face. “You put a ball in his hand and give him an opportunity to hoop and he hoops. You give him a ball and tell him to go play at the park, he’ll go try to get 25 or 30 at the park. It’s just his nature. For some people, you might be worried about the effects that this has. But with Tyreke, I don’t worry about him being in his feelings some sort of way. So I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a big output on Sunday.”

Gasol was surprised the Grizzlies elected not to trade Evans, but is glad to have him back – both for now, and potentially for seasons to come.

He’s scoring the ball, creating shots, getting into the paint, it’s an important talent to have right now in the NBA. We have it on our team, and that’s good for us.
-- Marc Gasol

“I’ve always said if you want to be a good team or you’re trying to be a good team by next year, you need a guy like Tyreke coming off the bench or in whatever role he might have, because he has a unique talent and that can really help,” Gasol said. “He’s scoring the ball, creating shots, getting into the paint, it’s an important talent to have right now in the NBA. We have it on our team, and that’s good for us.”

For now, Evans is relieved to put a hectic past week behind him.

“It was shocking to me,” Evans said of the trade deadline drama. “My friends were more worried than me. They were like, ‘It’s a minute left, all they have to do is call the NBA and something can happen.’ And I was like, ‘We’ll just see what happens.’ My agent was calling back and forth, talking about the situation. It was down to the wire, and then he told me I was staying. After that, I was coming back here and getting ready to practice.”

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.