The Journey: Maurice Evans on life in the league

The Journey: Maurice Evans on life in the league
Feb 06, 2007, 05:15 pm
The National Basketball League is a sport driven by its star power. The greatest names in the sport are iconic is stature worldwide and have helped perpetuate the game to global popularity beyond all other American games.

But behind goodwill tours and the gear that millions worldwide wear, the business of winning basketball games comes down to more than just star power. The process of building winning organizations that aspire to championship success require contributions from more than the headliners.

As the nation has seen in recent international competition, the power of team can supersede the spectacle of the individual when rotational unity is out of balance. There has been an obvious shift in attention placed on domestic player development in the US over the past couple of years as the reverence and respect for international basketball has grown.

But at the professional level in this country there is still a lot to be learned about patience when it comes to cultivating a team of contributors that have what it takes to form cohesive championship chemistry one through fifteen.

Maurice Evans of the Los Angeles Lakers has played on both sides of the pond and shares with us his observations about making it as a supporting actor in a league driven by the star system.

Part One

Eric Weiss-- Last time we spoke with you two years ago (PART ONE, PART TWO), we covered the path from college, through Europe, and then to the NBA. Detail what the journey’s been like over the past few years, starting with Sacramento and going into the free agent process and what that was like.

Maurice Evans-- Coming back from Europe it seemed like the table had been set. Once I went to Europe, for those first two years in Athens, I was an All Star. I was the Player of the Year and an All Star in Italy and we won the mid-season championship and went far in the playoffs. So I had a lot of success coming off of my European tour. I was a household name, established.

Coming back to the NBA, I was sure, wouldn’t be a problem at all. I didn’t foresee a situation where I wouldn’t have a guaranteed contract, where I wouldn’t have a multi-year deal waiting on the table for me. To my surprise, I really didn’t have anything concrete on the table waiting for me.

So I ended up signing a deal to play for a team in Russia, but that fell through when I got the opportunity to come to the NBA and play for Sacramento. I came into camp on a non-guaranteed contract and they had twenty-two guys who came into camp, but I was able to earn a spot on the team. I actually ended up starting the very first game because Doug Christie got injured. That kind of set the table for the entire year, anytime someone at the two or three position went out. Bobby Jackson ended up getting hurt. Any time Peja sat out I’d start. Doug Christie got traded…opportunities just became available.

Obviously my play allowed for these opportunities, but I thought they would already be in place because of my performance in Europe. The Nocioni’s, the Macijaukas’, guys of that nature were the guys who I was playing against in Europe. It’s ironic that Toronto’s team is filled with guys I played with or against in Europe. Andrea Bargnani was on my team, same for Uros Slokar, Garbajosa. We played against Anthony Parker, Calderon. It’s amazing how many players they have on that team that have some sort of European background.

Eric – Do you think that the NBA is getting a little wiser now in terms of scouting Europe? Back when you were coming out, the league was focusing more on younger and more unproven prospects like they were in the United States. It seems like now they’re starting to see the value of the 25-27 year old established European players.

Mo – They definitely do and I think it’s wise on their behalf. You have guys who have proven themselves, proven that they can play and come in and have an immediate impact on your team. You can pay those guys as opposed to taking a chance on a player who is much younger and underdeveloped.

Eric – What are your thoughts on the D-League? That was something that didn’t really have a solid foothold when you were coming back, it was more of an idea, and certainly wasn’t in place when you left college. How do you think it can benefit players in similar situations to what you were facing?

Mo – I think it’s a benefit in the sense where teams are able to have a more hands-on approach toward certain players. They’re able to see them and the players are able to remain affiliated in the sense where they get to practice at the same practice facility and play in NBA arenas [in the case of Evans’ team, the Lakers.]

But as far as getting better I don’t think it’s the best showcase because your team is ever-changing. You’ve got players who don’t feel like they’re getting the same opportunities as other players so they end up leaving and going overseas. You have players who are coming in after getting cut from teams or constantly getting shifted down [the rotation.] It’s just not really solid as far as getting a chance to showcase your talent.

I think that if you go over to Europe and play you get to earn a larger salary, which will help you to be more financially stable. Then you can maybe afford to wait for a better opportunity or the right opportunity per se. You also play against the top level of competition. The D-League doesn’t rival the level of competition in the NBA. If you go to Europe to play you have a greater pool of players who are dominant and will eventually be in the NBA or were in the NBA. Some players don’t even want to go to the NBA and would rather stay and play in Europe. It’s a better level of competition in my opinion.

Eric – European competition has certainly opened up a lot of people’s eyes. As you were saying earlier, you had to basically beg for a Summer League invite. I think there wasn’t a lot of credence given to how good the level of competition was over in Europe. Now, with the success that international teams have had in world competition, people are starting to understand. Strict fundamentals can go a long way toward building a winning brand of basketball as opposed to focusing on pure athleticism and hoping you can refine what you need out of a player.

What do you think you learned by going overseas? What did you lack that you refined?

Mo – What I think I lacked was playing experience. I felt like my skill level was there. I could always shoot and score. I played hard and I could play defense. Just off of effort alone I was able to contend with the NBA players.

But when I went over to Europe I was able to get actual playing experience. I was playing against pros and being counted upon to make big shots and make big plays, just to be accountable each and every night on a really good team against a high level of competition. Once I proved myself on that level I had the confidence to go prove even more.

I think that helped me when I came back to the NBA. Even though I played limited roles, a lot less was demanded of me. I was put in roles that gave me a chance to get on the floor a little bit more. For example, we were in New York and Doug Christie got in foul trouble. I was able to go in and I ended up getting switched up on Stephon Marbury. I ended up doing a good job and got to play pretty much the whole game because the coach liked what I brought defensively. In turn, I was able to score 16 points in a limited role and make something happen. That’s how every time I played I was able to open up the door a little bit more until finally I showed people that I could play in the NBA, now it’s paying dividends.

In a situation like here in LA, I’m getting consistent minutes and a lot of times on the floor and being allowed to finish games, play with Kobe and really be allowed to just go out and play.

Eric – Talk a little bit more about your experience in LA so far. What’s it been like?

Mo - It’s been about trying to get consistent. Playing and finding my niches is the only thing I’m having problems with now. Early on the offense was really complex and difficult to learn, but now I’ve got that down. So now I’m really just trying to continue to learn from Kobe, learn to play with Kobe and Lamar. We’ve got a great core, a very young and talented team. Phil Jackson is a great coach and we’re all just trying to figure out what our niches are going to be.

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