By John Denton
July 7, 2016
ORLANDO – The Orlando Magic believed in the talents of Evan Fournier so much so in 2014 that they willingly traded their then-leading scorer, Arron Afflalo, for the promising guard.
Then, after watching Fournier blossom into one of their core pieces over the past two seasons, the Magic headed into this offseason determined to do whatever it took to retain the restricted free agent.
GM Rob Hennigan, who found Fournier two seasons ago and promised earlier this offseason to re-sign Fournier, proved true to his word by keeping Fournier in Orlando. Orlando pursued Fournier, 23, on the first day of the free-agent courting period and signed him to a multi-year contract on Thursday, the first day teams and players could enter into official deals.
``That’s a big part of why I feel so good here – Orlando and Rob gave me the opportunity to become a starter and I didn’t forget that,’’ Fournier said on Thursday. ``I feel great here and I’m really excited about what’s next (for the Magic).’’
Possessing the ability to sign offer sheets with other teams and in high demand across the NBA because of his emerging talents, Fournier hardly looked elsewhere. He said repeatedly before free agency ever started that he primary goal was to return to the Magic, the franchise that has believed in his future for two years.
``I have the confidence of the front office and the coach and that means more to me than a team that doesn’t really know me and just offers a lot of money,’’ Fournier said of standing by the Magic even though he had more lucrative offers elsewhere. ``Basketball is more important to me and that’s why I made this choice. Since Day 1, I said that I wanted to come back and I was honest.’’
So, too, was Hennigan, who said in a release: ``As soon as the season ended, we said bringing Evan back was a top priority for us. He made tremendous strides last season and we’re confident he will continue to improve and grow as an integral member of our core. We are extremely happy to have Evan back in an Orlando Magic uniform.’’
Fournier is coming off a career year in which he averaged personal highs in scoring (15.4 ppg.), rebounding (2.8 rpg.), assists (2.7 apg.), steals (1.2 spg.) and minutes (32.5 mpg.). He led the team in scoring 19 times, had 24 20-point games and two 30-point nights.
Even more impressive was the efficiency that Fournier played with while compiling the biggest numbers of his career. Fournier shot 46.2 percent from the floor, 40 percent from 3-point range and 83.6 percent from the free throw line. Fournier was one of just eight players in the league to shoot at least 45 percent from the floor, 40 percent from 3-point range and 80 percent from the free throw line this season, joining Golden State’s Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard, Charlotte’s Marvin Williams, Los Angeles’ J.J. Redick, New York’s Jose Calderon and Sacramento’s Darren Collison.
And then there was Fournier’s play in the clutch. He had the game-winning 3-pointer against Minnesota on Nov. 18, the go-ahead basket for a win versus Houston on Dec. 23 and converted a game-tying layup in the final seconds of regulation against Dallas on Feb. 19 – a game that the Magic went on to win.
The Magic, winners of 35 games last season, figure that the best is yet to come from Fournier. He’s boosted his scoring average four years in a row and that could happen once again next season what with Orlando trading away Victor Oladipo on draft night to free up minutes and shots for Fournier and Mario Hezonja.
And on those occasions when Orlando opts for its best defensive lineup – one that will likely include center Bismack Biyombo, power forward Serge Ibaka, small forward Aaron Gordon and point guard Elfrid Payton – Fournier will be expected to be the go-to scorer.
``I thought it was a great offseason for us,’’ Fournier said of Orlando’s additions. ``We have a lot of talent and a lot of experience. A guy like Serge went to the NBA Finals and Jeff Green has gone deep into the playoffs. We have a very strong roster. Now, it’s our job to have a good balance on the floor. But I’m definitely excited about the players and I’m looking forward to playing with those guys.’’
It’s a role that the Magic saw Fournier ultimately growing into two years ago when they traded Afflalo for him. And it’s a role that is possible to happen now in Magic pinstripes with him signed to a long-term contract extension.
``(The contract) doesn’t change anything; regardless of the roster, I’m trying to get better as a player, be more efficient, be a little stronger and basically improve on everything,’’ Fournier said. ``My role is going to be growing, hopefully. I’m probably going to be more of a vocal leader, which is a challenge for me with English not being my natural language. I’m focused on giving everything I have every night for this team.’’
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