The Orlando Magic opted to keep Evan Fournier past the trade deadline, setting up a big decision and the chance they could lose him without any return this summer.
The trade deadline has passed.
The Magic are currently eighth in the Eastern Conference, the final spot in the Playoffs. In fact, they have the same record as last year and will need another crazed run to get to .500, although it may not be necessary to clinch a playoff spot.
Either way, Orlando is not contending for a championship this year. There may not have been a move to meaningfully advance the team in the short- and long-term. That could be one of the reasons why the organization stayed pat at the deadline.
The organization made it clear in doing so, they still see some value in Evan Fournier. At least for now, he will be a piece they want to hold on to for the foreseeable future. Evan Fournier will be a contributing factor to the Magic returning to the playoffs for a second straight year.
What nobody knows is whether the Magic view him as a piece to help the team rise to the top beyond that.
Fournier is having the best season of his career, averaging 18.7 points per game and 3.2 assists per game in 31.6 minutes per game for a Playoff-bound team. He is shooting 40.5-percent from beyond the arc and a 55.4-percent effective field goal percentage. Both are his best marks since his rookie season when he was coming off the bench and rarely used.
On top of this, Fournier holds a player option on the final year of his contract — worth $17 million. Fournier figured to be a valuable player to have entering a free agency where there is little cap room around the league. Bird Rights would have given a team the inside track to re-sign a valuable player.
In other words, this was the highest his trade value has ever been since joining the Magic in 2014. If the Magic were going to get something valuable — a young player or another big salary — this was their chance.
But the organization decided not to trade Fournier at the trade deadline. Orlando very realistically could see — or could let — Fournier walk in free agency and lose him. The risk of re-signing him is present.
The decision to keep him could be a big point for the Magic.
If Orlando keeps him, they have to hope he continues to blossom into a consistent scorer if the Magic want to become a championship-level team. Certainly at the salary they would need to pay to keep him — to go with the long-term contracts shelled out already to Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross along with upcoming contracts for Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz in the summer of 2021.
Fournier’s numbers are great if he was coming off of the bench of a championship-level team, but are subpar for a starting shooting guard in today’s NBA.
Fournier has proven to be the best shooter in Orlando. So it makes sense why the organization chose to retain Fournier and just let the remainder of the season play out.
But with the loss of Jonathan Isaac, it puts more of a focus on Evan Fournier’s deficiencies. His lack of speed becomes a glaring weakness against the better teams in the NBA.
Fournier said after Sunday’s practice that the injuries have started to wear on players. They are getting asked to do more to make up for losses throughout the roster. And that has been the struggle for this season.
Even Fournier’s stats have started to suffer. He is averaging 17.4 points per game and shooting 43.0 percent from the floor since Jonathan Isaac’s injury on Jan. 1.
On Monday, he played well against the Hawks, scoring 22 points in 32 minutes with three rebounds and three assist in a decisive win. The whole team played well, scoring a season-high 135 points and making a season-high 18 3-pointers. The Magic had four players score 20 or more points, the first time since March of last year.
This is the consistency the team needs to play with when they play the better teams in the NBA not just the lowly teams like the Hawks.
But in these types of games is when you can see the potential from players like Fournier, who is becoming a consistent sniper from behind the three-point line.
Fournier struggled in the Magic’s first playoff run last year. This is making up for lost time. And with the team’s lack of shooting, it is clear how important the Magic view Fournier to this season.
Beyond that, it is not clear. Orlando cannot pay everyone on the team. And Fournier might well be the odd man out.
But the Magic keeping Fournier shows a willingness within the organization to remain patient with the current roster and allow the players on team to continue to grow and find a way to keep the players comfortable within themselves.
At this point, Fournier is a veteran, a leader and a valuable asset to a team looking to make another appearance in the Playoffs.
Beyond that? Nobody really knows.