The Orlando Magic need Evan Fournier for his offense and shooting. But his future is still in focus and it is not clear where he fits into the team’s plans.
Evan Fournier was never worried about anything this offseason.
The thought of his impending and potential free agency never bothered him. It was just business. He seemed to trust his representatives and the Orlando Magic to take care of him and to take care of each other. It was not something that weighed on his mind as he headed back home to Paris during the shortened offseason.
His struggles in the postseason also did not weigh on him very much he said. He knows he struggled and did not give his team all they needed from him. He was sick from a non-COVID-related illness — probably much sicker than the public actually knew — that severely limited his ability to contribute inside the bubble.
Coach Steve Clifford worked to protect his starting player. He said Evan Fournier was unable to practice for several weeks including the playoffs. With how quickly everyone had to ramp up for the restart of the season, it would have been a tall ask for anyone missing significant time to catch up quickly.
None of this bothered Fournier. He put in his work and far away from Orlando, knowing exactly what he can do and how he can perform following what was otherwise a career season.
There was hand-wringing about what the right decision for the Magic and their future would be regarding Fournier’s player option. There were thoughts and desires to trade the veteran forward to free up space for the younger players.
There was, frankly, a lot of blame heaped on Evan Fournier for the Magic’s shortcomings — both he and Nikola Vucevic are the biggest physical representations of the Magic’s failed rebuild under Rob Hennigan. There is an antsiness to see the team change to get out of the 7/8-seed rut and Fournier’s impending free agency is at the top of the list.
Fournier has been good about blocking out that noise and has carved out consistency with this Magic team. The Orlando Magic know exactly what the team is going to get from him almost every night with the chance for big nights like he had in the team’s season-opening win over the Miami Heat.
Yet despite all this consistency and reliability, Fournier has never seemingly been able to give enough. And now in the final year of the five-year contract he signed just before things started turning south with Hennigan, Fournier is still trying to cement his future.
This is a year for Fournier to do what he can for the team as he always does, but a year for Fournier to chart what his future for his career will be. It increasingly looks like this will be the final season for Fournier in Orlando — although that is not even guaranteed.
The one thing everyone can count on is that Fournier is going to put up some solid numbers and shoot well. Where that fits into the Magic’s future and in the larger future for his career remain major questions.
A lot of those will get answered in the offseason. But his performance this year will inform what contract and what role he can find.
Fournier averaged a career-best 18.5 points per game last year with a career-best 56.0-percent effective field goal percentage. He has averaged at least 15 points per game in five straight seasons and has shot better than 37.0-percent from beyond the arc in three of his last five seasons.
Evan Fournier is one of the few players — along with Terrence Ross — defenses respect and pay attention to at the 3-point line. Fournier is not as prolific an off-ball mover as Ross. The Magic do not run him off the cavalcade of screens that they run Ross off of. But he is still a major threat either on the move or as a spot-up shooter.
The nature of the lineups Fournier plays in puts him in a position to be on the ball more. And he is not bad at attacking off the dribble in pick and rolls. But that has always left some major questions for him. At least for how to maximize Fournier and his abilities.
The Magic are changing their play style, whether it fits Fournier or not. But there is no reason it should not. There is no reason not to expect the same kind of production from Fournier, even if his role shifts a little bit.
Orlando has focused again on increasing its pace. They are also seemingly focused on modernizing their offense, looking to run more 5-out sets and have Vucevic camp out on the 3-point line. That should give Fournier more space to drive or cut to the basket and could have him playing more off the ball.
No one will complain about the results one game in — Fournier scored 25 points on 9-for-13 shooting, making three of his five 3-pointers. Fans often complain that many of his worst shots come when he is trying to break down the defense off the dribble rather than reacting after a ball reversal.
But throughout that first game, he was attacking in transition well and rarely playing in isolation or even off pick and rolls. The spread and speed-it-up offense the Magic defense was creating helped Fournier find scoring pockets more successfully.
This is just one game. But it certainly feels like this is a sustainable way to make the most of Fournier.
Making Fournier more of a secondary creator or ball-handler has always been the goal. The difficulty came in having Fournier play as the lead attacker for the team. That just is not a role that fits him well.
And that is going to be part of the discussion as contract negotiations and trade partners pick up throughout the course of the season.
That contract still hangs over the air. It will still be the biggest storyline for Fournier the entire season. He may have deferred (as was his right) decisions about his future, but inevitably it will come.
It is hard to see the Magic being able to afford another four-year, $17-million-per-year contract that Fournier will likely still command. The trade deadline is going to be a stressful time for Fournier and the Magic.
Especially since the team’s lack of outside shooting probably means they need Fournier a ton if they want to make a playoff push. Fournier still holds a lot of leverage in deciding his future with the Magic for that very reason.
Both will have to let the season play out to determine what to do next — whether that is in March or in the summer.
On the court though, the Magic can play with the certainty of what Fournier is going to do on a night-in, night-out basis. He is going to shoot effectively from the outside and help space the floor for the Magic in a significant way. He is going to be able to attack downhill against rotating defenses and have some creative finishes.
Fournier said he wants to improve his defense back to where it was in 2019. He saw slips on that end last year. That has never been his strength but remains important. Fournier will find holes in the defense and take advantage of them when they are there.
That reliability is crucial for this Magic team. They are going to need him offensively. And knowing what they will get from him every night is crucial to the team’s success.
What that means for him beyond this season is the great mystery Fournier is left to answer this year.