Blake Griffin and Stephen Curry are the only players from the 2009 draft who've averaged more points per game during their careers than Tyreke Evans has. Yet while Griffin received a five-year maximum-salary extension and Curry got four years and $44MM, Evans wasn't one of the eight players cashing in on the more than $400MM that teams handed out in rookie-scale extensions this past offseason. Now he'll try to make his money as a restricted free agent this summer, hoping teams will look past his declining numbers and history of losing with the Kings.
An early season report suggested the Kings would trade Evans if they didn't think they could re-sign him, and despite interest from other teams, Evans remains in Sacramento. That might have more to do with apparent restrictions placed on the Sacramento's front office as a part of the team's pending sale than the thought that Evans might return to the Kings. The 23-year-old indicated in January that he wouldn't mind being traded, so it seems he's at least entertained the idea of playing for another team.
The Grizzlies inquired about the possibility of an Evans trade prior to the Rudy Gay deal, according to Ailene Voisin of the Sacramento Bee, who added that the Lakers and Nuggets have had interest in the past. The Celtics made an ill-fated deadline-day run at trading for Evans. Unless Andre Iguodala exercises his early-termination option to get out of his contract with the Nuggets, none of those teams are set to have significant cap room this summer, so they appear to be unlikely destinations. When Luke Adams of Hoops Rumors looked at Evans' trade candidacy this season, he speculated that the Mavericks and Suns could become suitors, but the 6'6" guard would probably be far down the list of priorities for both teams, and especially for the Mavs.
Evans' scoring, rebounding and assists per game averages have declined each season since he won Rookie of the Year in 2010. Those numbers have fallen with commensurate decreases in minutes, however, and his per-36-minute averages have been fairly consistent the past three seasons. More telling is his PER, which is at 18.4 this season, exceeding his previous career high of 18.2 as a rookie. Indeed, Evans is having his best year as the advanced metrics tell it, setting new high marks in win shares per 48 minutes, true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage. The latter two statistics are helped by his improved three-point shooting. Evans is making a third of his treys this season, and though that doesn't necessarily make him a proficient long-range threat, it's a vast improvement on his nightmarish 20.2% clip from beyond the arc last season.
Still, I think teams will be wary of overpaying a player that the woeful Kings have given less playing time in each successive year. Evans' dwindling minutes, at 31.8 per game this season, may speak as much to the problems in Sacramento as anything else, but they're a red flag nonetheless. The Kings have also moved him around, using him as a point guard and a small forward, but he seems best suited as a shooting guard, and perhaps playing out of position has held him back.
In any case, I don't think it's a slam dunk that Sacramento will tender the $6,927,157 qualifying offer required for them to be able to match offers for him this summer, so Evans might hit the unrestricted market. That could be a blessing in disguise for him, since other teams wouldn't have to worry about the Kings snatching him away, but it may also be a curse, since teams would know they needn't overinflate their offers in hopes that the Kings don't match.
I wouldn't be surprised to see Arn Tellem, Evans' agent, issue a decree that his client won't sign for the mid-level exception, which will have a starting salary of $5.15MM next season, but the mid-level may be their best option. That would allow Evans to sign with a contending team that could nurture his development and help him continue to improve his outside shooting touch in ways the Kings perhaps couldn't. That might set him up to make much more on his next deal, so if Tellem negotiates a player option at the back end of a mid-level contract that would allow Evans to hit the market again while he's relatively young, that sounds ideal for both player and team.