After fighting so hard, as a vice president of the players’ association, to make sure that there would be a 2011-12 NBA campaign, Maurice Evans would’ve liked the opportunity to play more for the Washington Wizards this season. He believed, and still does believe, that he’s got plenty more left to give on those 33-year-old legs.
But with Wizards focused on developing young talent, later attempting to find a hidden gem from the Development League and Roger Mason Jr. the only veteran perimeter player in the regular rotation, Evans couldn’t even collect the scraps.
Evans didn’t complain and waited for an opening, which arrived on Monday in Chicago, where the short-handed Wizards were without Mason — who was waived after having season-ending surgery on his left index finger in order to make room for D-League call-up Morris Almond. Evans crashed through the crack and scored 14 points to help lead the Wizards to a stunning 87-84 comeback win over the Bulls at United Center.
“I’ve never been through this before, where I’ve actually sat out so many games with seemingly no opportunity to play,” said Evans, who has played in just 19 games this season. “Not to sound all Tebow-ish, but I’ve been praying a lot, maturing a lot and I’m glad I was able to stay professional and continue to help these guys when the moment came. Just took advantage of it.”
Evans was rewarded for his patience and the Wizards were rewarded for his diligence. Evans had 10 points in the fourth quarter, including a baseline jumper and corner three-pointer during a 13-0 run that allowed the Wizards to turn an 11-point deficit into a 70-68 lead. He then broke a 75-all tie with a three-point play and then played lock-down defense on Bulls sharpshooter Kyle Korver, refusing to let him get a basket in the period and limiting him to one field goal attempt.
“That’s what you call professional,” said Coach Randy Wittman. “He has not gotten a lot of time because of where we’re at, with the young guys we have. But with Mase going down and Morris not knowing anything . . . that’s what a professional is.”
Evans will accept the praise but admitted that sitting out so much time has been hard. He recently sat for a season-high stretch of 11 straight games before being handed some token minutes in Saturday’s loss to Cleveland.
“It’s difficult, but it’s not that difficult when they communicate, and our organization has done a great job with me, letting me know what my role is and my expectations are. And then, it’s a matter of me, as a player, if I can accept that role or not,” he said. “This is all happening to me at the right stage in my career. I wasn’t always as mature.”
Averaging the fewest minutes (12.2) and points (3.9) since his rookie season, Evans said he isn’t totally disappointed with how this season has turned out. He understands how he has helped fill the disconnect between the coaching staff and a younger generation of player.
Constantly in Jordan Crawford’s ear, offering encouragement and constructive criticism, Evans also attacks him one-on-one in pregame drills, occasionally pulling off a move or two to show he still has some skills. When players get subbed, they often sit next to Evans for counsel. And, he organized several team functions — dinners, bowling events, player meetings, etc. — to help with team unity.
“Gaining that trust and credibility,” Evans said, explaining his role. “Me, still being capable of playing, obviously, it’s frustrating at times to not be able to go out and help my teammates. But being a professional, I understand I can still add value — and quite frankly, I’ve brought more value to the team than any year I have as a player in contributing on the floor.”
He knows that the message carries more weight if he is on the floor battling and Evans has had some big games when Wittman has given him the time, such as on Feb. 28, when he scored a season-high 15 points and nearly led the Wizards back from a 22-point deficit in Milwaukee before the team lost, 119-118. He played at least 20 minutes for just the fifth time all season in Chicago and even got to talk some trash to his good friend and former teammate, Richard Hamilton of the Bulls.
“It’s always fun to play against him,” said Hamilton, who was a groomsman in Evans’s wedding. “He was great. Gave them a great lift off the bench. He was a guy who really stuck with it when he wasn’t playing. But he’s been a professional his whole career and when he came out and got a chance, he showed what he can do.”
Evans may get the chance to play more over the final five games and he certainly doesn’t believe that he is finished. “Maybe in the future I might go and try to make a push at a championship or maybe I might continue to revisit this option again,” Evans said. “I’m in a great place in my career. I’ve got a lot of options off the court. I don’t have to ride solely on my basketball talents anymore to get recognition. I would still love to play obviously, beyond this season. Wherever my skill set is needed, an opportunity to play or help being a locker room guy or whatever it is at this stage.”