Sunday Musings: Where reality meets the road for the Sacramento Kings

Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton celebrate against the Clippers. (Photo: Steven Chea)

There are a lot of angry Sacramento Kings fans right now.  They are frustrated and they have turned to message boards to point fingers and make accusations.  They are on Twitter and I’m sure even a few are ascending Mount Shasta as I write this to scream from the top of their lungs.

How could the Kings let Tyreke Evans walk away?

You have to understand just how beaten down this fanbase is before you can ask why some would be so upset that new general manager Pete D’Aleassandro dealt Evans to the New Orleans Pelicans for Greivis Vasquez.

As I wrote yesterday, Vasquez is not a talent-for-talent equal to Evans, but he is a better fit next to DeMarcus Cousins and Ben McLemore.  They are the new future of the Kings – an unbelievably talented big man and a smooth shooting, athletic two guard.

Fans may get angrier as the summer progresses.  There might not be an available small forward to replace John Salmons.  Jimmer Fredette may get traded and the same goes for fan favorites Isaiah Thomas and Jason Thompson.  No one is safe when new management comes in.

Sacramento Kings Sign Lady at Here We Buy Night (Photo: Steven Chea)Before I delve into psycho-babble of what it has been like for poor Kings fans, let me clarify a few points.  The  Kings won 28 games last season.  In fact, they have gone just 116-278 over the last five seasons, a paltry .294 win percentage.  This isn’t a “fixer-upper”.  Some spackling and a fresh coat of paint is not what is needed.  This franchise was broken from top to bottom.  New pieces are needed and that is hard for some folks to realize.

Secondly, Evans wanted to stay in Sacramento with all of his heart.  He had just moved into a new home.  He has a free camp for underprivileged kids next week.  He has family here now.  But let me be perfectly clear – he wanted to stay in Sacramento for four years and $44 million.

The Kings were straight with him.  They told him how much they wanted him back and how much they thought of him as a talent.  In fact, they went as far as to tell him they thought he was worth a four year contract at around $8-9 million per season.  Is two or three million a year semantics in the NBA game?  To some it is, but apparently not to D’Alessandro.

The fact is, the Kings made their pitch and hidden in that pitch was an offer.  Evans and his group waited by the phone for the Kings to come up in their negotiations and the phone never rang.  But, the Kings aren’t the only ones with a mobile phone in their pocket.  The Kings had a price they were willing to pay.  Evans had a price he was able to get on the open market.  The two numbers didn’t jive.  Evans decided to play Russian roulette and the Kings said good luck with that, enjoy yourself as a bench player for the New Orleans Pelicans over the next four seasons.

Tyreke Evans at the free throw line (Photo: Steven Chea)Now this doesn’t feel good for anyone.  The Kings made an honest play for Evans and I have to believe that they truly valued him as a player and person.  Evans wanted to be part of the rebuild here in Sacramento, but he also wanted to get paid.

The reality is that in a negotiation between a franchise and a player, the fans are often overlooked.  In fact,  Kings fans have been overlooked for some time and there is a reason why losing Evans means so much to so many.

It goes beyond the tens of thousands of No. 13 jerseys that are now outdated.  And it goes beyond Evans as a player or member of the community.

In a city where fans have bled for their team, Evans represented hope.

The Kings haven’t had many rookie of the year candidates, let alone a winner before Evans.  In 28 seasons, the Kings have been mostly bad.  In only ten of those years did they make the playoffs, meaning that for the other 18, Sacramento waited for their savior through the NBA Draft Lottery.

It has been painful to watch.  From Joe Kleine to Bobby Hurley, the Kings have missed.  There was even a season when Sacramento traded away all of their talent and had four first round picks – Lionel Simmons, Travis Mays, Duane Causwell and Anthony Bonner.  None of those players made a substantial impact in the league.

There was also Ricky Berry, who took his own life after his rookie season and Billy Owens, who refused to play for the team and had to be traded before ever signing a contract.  And let’s not forget Pervis Ellison, the lone No. 1 pick the Kings have ever had.  He lasted all of one season in Sacramento before being shipped out to Washington in a three-team deal.

Kings fans have seen failures and they have seen losing in epic proportion.  They have seen an ownership group squander talent and attempt to move the team repeatedly.  They have been through the ringer both on and off the court.

But Evans brought hope.

In his rookie season, the team promoted Evans as the next big thing.  Remember the 20-5-5 t-shirts or the #RekeROY hashtag?  What about the 10-story, billboard skin on a downtown Sacramento skyscraper?  Everyone in Sacramento thought they had found a star.

In fact, the Maloofs even had the nerve to say that they wouldn’t chase LeBron James in free agency that next summer because they already had Tyreke Evans.  The future looked so bright.

In his second season, plantar fasciitus slowed him down, but you could still see the talent was there.  Adding Cousins to the mix made fans think they had building blocks for the future.  A legit perimeter star and a low-post monster.

But the team never improved.  Coaching changes happened and the franchise became about as unstable as any in professional sports.  And Evans plateaued well below his enormous potential.

Many of the Sacramento fans feel like Evans was their reward for all of the losing.  He was the shiny beacon that just needed the right coach to get everything back on track.  Sure, he has flaws as a player, but at 23-years-old, there was still so much time to relaunch his meteoric first season and create something special.  They salivated at the chance to see Michael Malone work with this kid and take him to the next level.

That is why there is a general manger that makes decisions and not a fan poll.  D’Alessandro has watched plenty of tape of Evans.  He has had plenty of conversations with former coaches and front office personnel.  He placed a value on Evans’ skillset.  The price exceeded that value and he moved on.

It sounds cold and heartless, but D’Alessandro does not have the same attachment to the idea of Evans that fans have.  He is an objective observer and at the end of the day, his vision for the Kings placed a very strict value on the 23-year-old swingman.

So it is time to move forward.  The wound is fresh and Evans is gone, but so are the Maloofs.  This was a basketball decision made by a general manager of a 28-win team.  A general manager that will rebuild this team in his image, not the previous regime’s.  It’s time to remember the highlights and the excitement, but it is also time to embrace Greivis Vasquez and a new way of thinking about your Sacramento Kings.

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About: James Ham

James Ham provides coverage through news analysis and in-depth interviews with Kings players and staff. James is also one of the producers behind the award-winning, independent documentary "Small Market, Big Heart". James graduated UC Davis with a degree in history and is happily married with two children.