There are no easy decisions for Orlando Magic, Evan Fournier

Evan Fournier has put together a career season but still may not have many options if he decides to enter free agency. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
Evan Fournier has put together a career season but still may not have many options if he decides to enter free agency. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images) /

The big decision this offseason centers on Evan Fournier and his free agency. The season’s delay is leaving no easy choices for the Orlando Magic.

For the last two seasons, the Orlando Magic have tried to bridge the gap between their past and their future.

President of basketball operations Jeff Weltman came in three years ago and spent much of his time changing the Magic’s infrastructure. The roster was going to be a slower evolution through draft picks, trades and free agency.

Weltman was not going to rush into anything. He was not going to make the hurried mistakes to bring the Magic into contention. The whole process was about evolution.

The team was going to take its time and build slowly, shedding parts as they went and taking things in turn.

Any plan the Magic might have had — or their fans had — got turned on its head quickly.

As part of the infrastructure build, the Magic hired coach Steve Clifford to help solidify the foundation for the team. He built a stronger foundation than anyone could have imagined.

He took those players from the Magic’s previous regime and turned them into a playoff team. The foundation was much stronger than perhaps everyone thought. And so the past was mapping a place in the Magic’s future.

But the future is always coming. And tough choices lie ahead as the team tries to maintain this competitive balance with development.

And now Evan Fournier is caught in the middle. And when it comes to retaining Evan Fournier or even Fournier deciding to stay, there are no easy decisions.

After a career season, Fournier is not going to have the options in front of him in free agency that he probably thought. It looks more and more likely that Fournier will pick up his player option on the 2021 season to avoid the uncertainty of this offseason.

The Magic are a team where everyone has to fit in and do their part to succeed. There is no clear pecking order or clear star. But Fournier still is vital to the team as one of its best shooters. This year he helped keep things afloat through all the injuries.

Yet, absence has not made the heart grow fonder. The Magic are 4-0 without Fournier and it seems to unleash Markelle Fultz and other latent elements of the Magic’s offense. Then again, the team needs his shooting.

It has been a fantastic season for Fournier, averaging a career-best 18.8 points per game. His 56.4-percent effective field goal percentage is his best since joining the Magic in 2016, as is the 40.6-percent shooting from beyond the arc.

But things are not so clear for Fournier.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

The Magic want to play at a faster pace and Fournier tends to prefer to play a bit more patient and slower. His attacks often require he waits for a screen, which tends to slow the game down.

The Magic can certainly play around that as they increase Markelle Fultz’s responsibility. There is a way to fit Fournier into this kind of offense. But undoubtedly, Fournier tends to be a high-usage player and that is probably not his ideal role.

But on this free-agent market, it will be tough for the Magic to find a replacement for Fournier with their financial limitations. The team has roughly $96 million committed to next season before taking any options into account.

The salary cap was expected to fall at $115 million. That is going to decrease with the league losing money in China this year and now the postponement of part of the season. There is a lot of uncertainty in the offseason.

Fournier could have — and could still — easily opted out of his contract and forced the Magic into a decision to keep him knowing a replacement would be hard to find or find another long-term deal.

But there were not many options for him either.

Not many teams have close to the cap room Fournier would want in a long-term contract — his salary next year if he picked up his option is roughly $17.2 million. And that opportunity is only going to get tighter with the uncertainty about the salary cap decreasing.

Fournier may not be able to make that same amount on the open market. So after a year where it seemed almost certain Fournier would opt out of his contract, it looks increasingly more like the best business decision for him is to opt-in.

John Hollinger of The Athletic (subscription required) even suggested there is the potential for Fournier to sign an extension because of how desperate the Magic are for shooting and having some stability.

There are a lot of tough choices for both parties involved. And these choices will set the Magic’s near-term future.

And this will keep the Magic sort of straddling both their past and the foundation they have built and the future they want to build.

But eventually, the future will come.

Everyone senses it, especially after this season when the team seemed to stagnate. The Magic finished seventh in a surprise playoff run last year. This year, the team has solidified its playoff position but did not advance beyond the lower seeds.

The team wants to be more and has to be more. And to do that will require change.

After giving out contracts to Rob Hennigan holdovers in Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross, the Magic still look very much like the team that struggled to hit 30 wins for six seasons.

This team is different for sure under Clifford. But eventually, the Magic want to burst through their ceiling. And that will require change.

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Fournier might still be the odd man out in the long run.

It is not that he is holding the team back in any way. Some of it simply the Magic cannot pay everyone and they have to start making decisions on players and they have to start mapping out their future.

Fournier still plays a role in that — both as a player on this team potentially and as a trade asset. But Fournier’s decision to stay or go will help pick out which way the team goes.

Surely, if he opts in, Fournier will become one of the biggest trade chips the Magic have to improve the team overall. But he will also remain a vital player to space the floor for a team that still has playoff aspirations.

Keeping Fournier — and possibly even agreeing to a long-term deal — might be about preserving an asset for a future trade and buying time to make that big all-in deal down the road. But it also might be about keeping the foundation the team has built so far.

The Magic’s best track to improve is still internal development. Orlando needs to give Jonathan Isaac, Markelle Fultz, Mohamed Bamba and Aaron Gordon all the ability to improve and grow that they can. Having supporting players like Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier who can pace the team are still vital to their growth.

The difficult part for this franchise is knowing when to trust those young players to walk on their own. And it is still uncertain whether the Magic are at that point.

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This decision involving Fournier — both for Fournier and his career and for the Magic and their future — is proving to be a difficult one. It will be one that defines the Magic’s short-term outlook.