Maurice Evans brought a tough, never-give-up attitude with him when he arrived in the trade deadline deal with the Atlanta Hawks. His aggressive style of play became contagious, whether he was hitting rally-starting corner three-pointers or guarding the opposing team’s best perimeter scorer. When the Miami Heat came to town on March 30, Evans delivered a hard foul on LeBron James and even confronted James and Dwyane Wade to ask, “Why are you guys so sensitive?”
“I tried to do everything I could to help them get off to a good start and I probably came back a little too early,” Evans said. “I had to have it drained four times, because of all the fluid and grinding and never letting my body heal. Instead of being like a lot of players who sat out, I played.”
Evans felt he needed to play, with him being a free agent this summer and having an infant daughter. But as he struggled to find his form, Evans eventually fell out of the regular rotation with the Hawks and was dealt at the deadline.
He accepted the challenge of being an older veteran going from a playoff team to a team headed to the lottery without causing a stir — or seeking a buyout, like Mike Bibby — but was a little disenchanted considering the sacrifices he had made, with regards to his knee. “That’s obviously where the disappointment comes from in this part of the business in getting traded — When you fought through injury for an organization,” Evans, 32, said. “But I understand that’s part of the business and fortunately for me, I take care of my body and I was able to get better with time and it did.”
The pain in his knee never fully went away, as he played a total of 73 games last season; second only to JaVale McGee. But while his streak of making the playoffs in each of his first seven seasons came to end, he actually embraced the opportunity for playing time and to impart wisdom to a young team. When Rashard Lewis and later Josh Howard went down with knee injuries, a player who was dealing with his own knee pain became an unexpected leader. He averaged 9.7 points and 2.8 rebounds in 26 games with the Wizards after contributing just 4.5 points and 1.8 rebounds in 47 games with the Hawks.
“I’m a competitor and obviously, having been to the playoffs, I was proud of that every year. I worked really hard, the games that we had there, contributing to Atlanta’s success, going to the playoffs,” Evans said. “To go to a team that obviously isn’t competing for championship, but just in being a professional, you’ve got to go in and do your job and understand that’s a part of your job. I came here with different expectations. I came here to work trying to get better and have an impact on the court. My role was increased and my responsibilities as a leader were increased. I tried to embrace those and I just tried to fulfill my obligation.”
When the season ended, Evans didn’t waste any time getting back to Houston to be with his wife, Alexandra, and 15-month-old daughter, Reese. He rarely got to see them after the trade and missed some important steps in Reese’s development. “It was tough. Obviously, with a young child and our schedule is kind of brutal coming down the stretch. She started walking and I was gone,” he said. “My wife was great. She was super supportive. She came out here as well, so from a personal standpoint, I couldn’t have been more proud of her and the way that we were able to handle the situation.”
Back with Coach Flip Saunders and his staff for the third time in his career, Evans was so appreciative of the chance he was given that he has already expressed to President Ernie Grunfeld his desire to return to Washington. “I’m excited to be a free agent and I’m excited for the opportunity that I have, but hopefully, there’ll be an opportunity here to come back here and continue my career as well and help this team reach that pinnacle,” he said. “I’m impressed with the season, for a team that got off to a rough start with injuries, inexperience, youthfulness really finished strong. As a whole, as an individual, I think that my personal identity mirrored theirs a little bit.”