Evan Fournier understands the NBA’s return is about money

Potential Free-agent-to-be Evan Fournier is not shy about sharing that he wants to play. He also is clear as to why the NBA is risking this return.

Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier made some waves when he responded to reports that Washington Wizards forward Davis Bertans would sit out the bubble with his Wizards team needing to make up 1.5 games to force a play-in series.

Evan Fournier has always kept things pretty real with the media. That frankness is refreshing and he is usually pretty honest with how he feels and what is going on with the team. He is open with his emotions — the Magic always seem to find the most intense and terrifying images of Fournier screaming in celebration to put on their giant scoreboard.

Fournier is always fairly well-meaning and honest.

But sometimes that honesty gets him in some hot water on social media. And his comment claiming Bertans sitting out is what is wrong with the NBA got him into some hot water again.

Fournier clarified his comment when he spoke with the media last week. He said ultimately deciding whether to play or not was a personal choice. He said for him and for many players, playing is not about a fear of contracting the virus. It is merely what is a priority for them — whether that be their contract status or being with family.

Like Bertans, Fournier can hit free agency this offseason. He has a player option on the final year of his contract.

But clearly Fournier had no thought of not heading back to play. Some of that is his contract situation — he has that extra year in his back pocket.

But playing is also about something else — not just for him, but for everyone else. It is an investment in themselves and the rest of the league. Or rather, protecting their investment.

As much as the league has used language about returning to normalcy and giving fans some form of entertainment, this is really about saving the league’s finances. It is really OK to admit that.

“Obviously that’s the main reason why we’re going to start the season,” Fournier said last week on a ZOOM call with media. “It’s because us not playing and the NBA just canceling the season, the NBA would lose so much money, it would have huge impacts on next year for the owners, for us, for the salary cap, for everyone. We’re trying to save the season financially by us going to Disney. As far as my free agency, I have no pressure at all because of my player option. When the moment comes, I’m going to look at stuff and look at the numbers. But there’s really no pressure.”

And for Fournier, the stakes are pretty clear.

Fournier has a $17 million player option for the 2021 season. He can become a free agent either this offseason or next offseason. So he certainly has a vested interest in seeing the NBA keep up its finances.

At 27 years old, he is probably looking for his last big four-year contract. And Fournier has earned it with a career-high 18.8 points per game on 56.4-percent effective field goal percentage. This on top of a career of fairly consistent play and shooting.

There is a lot on the line for Fournier. And he has an important decision to make too.

Fournier might well have opted-in to the final year of his contract anyway. Despite his stellar season, it is a fairly light free-agent market this summer. There are not many teams with significant cap room and even fewer available free agents.

The hiatus and the potential for the salary cap to decrease probably changes some of that calculus. Fournier could enter a more crowded but open free-agent market in 2021.

The NBA needs to make the Playoffs happen to make good on their television contracts, the main source of revenue for the league. It is already taking a pretty big hit. The league is expected to adjust the salary cap down some, but inflate it some to maintain competitive balance.

The focus, for now, is getting ready to play again.

Players are sacrificing a lot to do it to go into the bubble and return safely. That is how much the NBA needs to finish the season.

For Fournier, this will be the toughest thing. The shutdown gave him the chance to spend more time with his young family — and his one-year-old son. It will be tough to leave that behind.

“I had a great time during the shutdown,” Fournier said last week. “It was like one of the best times of my life, to be honest. To spend time with my son and see him grow every day. I love being at home and having just the time to work on the stuff I want to work on as far as bodyweight stuff. I’ve always wanted to work on bodyweight stuff. I had a great time. It’s unfortunate, but we had a great time at home. Leaving them behind is going to be tough for sure.”

Fournier said his family will be returning to France when he enters the bubble. They will be even further away — but in a part of the world that has the virus largely under control compared to the United States, and especially Florida.

But he knows and the league knows it has to return. Both for the high-minded reasons the league has given and also for the financial reasons it must.

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Everyone will have to reckon with that choice and their own decision whether to return. For Fournier, the choice is obvious and he seems eager to play despite the sacrifices he and others will have to make.

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