This Tyreke Evans dance, the changing expectations of the guards, has a fascinating rhythm of its own. Expect one step forward, one step back and several steps into the unknown.
This won't be easy. Three seasons into his career, the Kings are asking Evans to swap out the bathroom towels, switch from steak to salmon, and while in the midst of the makeover, paint the house in more subdued, subtle shades.
Things are different now. Chuck Hayes apparently is coming back, Jimmer Fredette can play. John Salmons was acquired, Marcus Thornton re-signed, and that big anchor in the middle talented DeMarcus Cousins is taking baby steps toward maturity.
But Tyreke is still the guy, and still the guy with the toughest job, because no matter who you are, habits are hard to break. And Evans has habits to break. He knows it. We see it. Opponents exploit them.
For Paul Westphal's young and undersized squad to be upwardly mobile within the Pacific Division, Evans must develop into the multidimensional threat he says he has always wanted to be. Move the ball, stop overdribbling, play at a brisker pace. Share ballhandling responsibilities with Fredette, Thornton and Salmons. Become a more willing passer particularly on two-on-one fastbreaks and make better decisions with the ball.
This only works this 2011-12 improvement plan if Tyreke punches the same time card as his teammates.
"Yeah, yeah, we have guys who can do things," Evans said with a forceful nod. "I think we're building a real team. I don't feel as much pressure to do so much. I don't have to have the ball in my hands all the time, even though I'm used to that. We're going to stop being selfish. My goal this year is to play defense, to will myself to play great defense."
Evans, thick and athletic at 6-foot-6, with long arms and quick hands, has shown glimpses. He stifled a smaller Chris Paul during their first matchup at Power Balance Pavilion, frustrating the All-Star point guard with his strength and size. More recently, he altered Monta Ellis' long jumper during a crucial late possession in Tuesday's preseason game against Golden State.
That's the thing about Tyreke. He can do everything except consistently hit the open jumper (so far). He can score, he can pass, he can rebound, he can handle the ball. And were he truly inclined to assert himself defensively and again, he insists he is he could be another Dennis Johnson or, as Westphal suggested, a clone of his former Boston Celtics teammate Don Chaney.
"Tyreke doesn't have the mentality yet," Westphal said, "but he's working on it."
Evans, whose 2010-11 season repeatedly was disrupted by an inflamed heel, always has been an intense competitor. He also is unfailingly good-natured, always eager to please. While he is headstrong and can frustrate with his one-on-one tendencies, his score-vs.-pass conflict ever present, he isn't one of those young stars who challenge their coach. He listens, he hears and, as the regular season approaches, he is hearing a more insistent, demanding Westphal.
"Coach talked to me about (improving) my defense before camp," Evans said. "I know if I play great defense, we can be a good team. That's why I asked coach to put me on Monta (Ellis). It's not easy, though. When I talked to Chuck (Hayes) in practice, he said, 'You have to defend to make the playoffs.' Chuck has helped me a lot. Never played with anybody who talked so much on defense. But, man, it's hard."
Leaning back in his chair in the locker room late Tuesday, Evans laughed. He had ice bags on his knees, on his right foot, on his left shoulder.
"If I got to (defend) every night," he added, "I have to be ready. You know? Like I said, I just have to get the will to be a great defender. We got guys who can handle, score, like Marcus, Jimmer. That's my goal, my focus. I want to win."