Evan Fournier opting in was first important piece to Orlando Magic’s offseason

Evan Fournier is set to opt in to the final year of his contract, giving the Orlando Magic a key player to 2021 and a key trade piece beyond it.

Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier will opt in to the final year of his five-year, $85 million contract as expected, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Even coming off a career season with the Magic last year, coming off the tails of a stellar bronze-medal run for France at the FIBA World Cup, Evan Fournier opted to finish out his contract rather than go into an uncertain free-agent market.

Yes, even one of the best perimeter players on this free-agent class looked at it and saw a difficult market for him to recoup the $17 million he was owed anyway. There are simply too few free agents and too few teams with cap room — especially contending teams — for Fournier to get everything he would want out of free agency.

On top of this was the strange financial climate the coronavirus has created for the NBA. With a sped-up offseason and free agency before the Dec. 1 start of training camp and the Dec. 22 start to the season.

Fournier is not alone facing these circumstances. And he is not the only player who expectedly decided to opt-in to delay their free agency when he otherwise might have tested free agency in a normal offseason.

Perhaps there was even the sense that if he opted out the Magic would not retain him, turning him loose into this uncertain market. So this extra year of security before a more open free-agent market in 2021 was also partially strategic on his part.

Again, this was all expected. Nothing Fournier did was a surprise.

But it is a vital piece to the Magic’s offseason plans. It is a big domino that falls that could set in motion the rest of the offseason.

First off, Fournier is still a vital part of the Magic and their hopes of returning to the playoffs for the third straight year.

He was the team’s most consistent player last year, averaging 18.5 points per game and shooting 39.9 percent from beyond the arc. Fournier was solid attacking the basket and shooting consistently from the floor in a year when the Magic shot very poorly.

Fournier has long been a solid shooter for the Magic and a smart attacker in pick and rolls. He is especially good at playing against rotating defenses. He plays hard and took to a lot of what coach Steve Clifford taught as the Magic improved in the last two seasons.

Still, the fit has not been perfect. Fournier’s critics will point to how he slows the ball down at times and even try to do too much on the ball. Fournier, despite his best efforts, is not a great individual defender.

Likely Fournier is a solid secondary player whom the Magic have asked to be a primary creator and scorer for the team. They have simply asked him to do too much.

And his struggles in both playoffs he has appeared in with the Magic loom large. After recovering from an elbow injury from just before the league went on hiatus, Fournier got a non-COVID-related illness in the NBA Campus and was unable to practice.

That explains part of his performance in the postseason — 12.8 points per game, 34.3-percent 3-point shooting and a 45.6-percent effective field goal percentage. But still, Fournier’s struggles were similar to his difficulties against the Toronto Raptors in the 2019 Playoffs.

There are still larger questions about whether Fournier fits into this team’s long-term vision. Figuring out what to do with him was never an easy answer for the Magic.

And certainly, there are questions remaining about whether the team will keep him beyond this season when his contract expires.

The Magic have big financial decisions to make elsewhere on the roster in 2021 involving Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz. And the team is nearing the luxury tax line as it is. Some players are going to get squeezed out as the team prepares for its future.

And that might be the bigger piece of Fournier opting in that matters more to the Magic.

Even if Fournier opted out this summer, the Magic would not have enough cap room to sign anyone of significance — certainly not a starter-level player — with the loss of Fournier’s $17 million in cap room.

Fournier opting in gives the Magic another big piece to move in the trade market. It gives them another player, perhaps one they already know is not part of the team’s long-term future, they could move for the kind of player they are looking for to tie the team together.

That $17-million contract is a big piece the team could move around to get some young players or as part of an effort to get a big star. Fournier’s shooting when employed in the right role certainly could help a contending team. So too could his expiring contract.

Losing Fournier for nothing would not have been disastrous for the Magic, but it would have severely hampered the team’s ability to make moves and stay competitive this year.

The Magic, for better or worse, are likely going to try to stick to this path of keeping their foot in both waters. They are going to hunt for trades that will help improve the team for the long-term and their moves will be focused on a long-term gain. But the Magic are not likely to sacrifice their playoff spot to do so unless the deal is painfully obvious to do.

It is a difficult path to walk. And the next week will go a long way in determining what kind of team the Magic will be in 2021.

Fournier though remains a player in both those waters. He is a vital player to the team’s 2021 hopes of returning to the playoffs and a key trade asset the Magic are likely to flip for some long-term goals.

This was just an expected and first domino in what should be an intriguing offseason.