The Orlando Magic are headed for an offseason full of decisions – and one that will certainly cement the legacy of general manager Rob Hennigan. It has become evident that the team will add talent via free agency, but in the process they risk losing one of their biggest assets.
Evan Fournier was a living symbol of hope during the Magic’s miraculous 13-5 push to end 2015. During this run, his energy and sharpshooting prowess were enough to send franchise player Victor Oladipo to the bench.
After the departure of Tobias Harris, Fournier, a natural shooting guard, has been pressed into service as a small forward. Though he has performed admirably, it’s clear that the 6-foot-7 Frenchman is at a disadvantage when guarding larger forwards such as LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. Because of this, it seems that there just aren’t enough minutes to go around for Orlando to keep Fournier at the price he will command this offseason.
But what if a single free agent could solve this problem while creating instant chemistry in Orlando?
Enter Nicolas Batum, the do-it-all swingman for the Charlotte Hornets.
In Charlotte, the offense runs through Batum at the small forward position. This point-forward scheme creates opportunities for scoring guards Kemba Walker, Courtney Lee, and formerly P.J. Hairston. A point forward allows the team to essentially start two shooting guards without the worry of one of them running the point.
By adding Batumto the roster, the Magic would gain the ability to play both Oladipo and Fournier simultaneous, while alleviating some of the matchup issues the duo currently face.
This idea seems a bit unorthodox, but many great teams have won championships with a point forward. It’s almost cliché to compare Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls with the modern Golden State Warriors, but one irrefutable truth is that in Draymond Green and Scottie Pippen, both teams feature a point forward. Other modern examples are the San Antonio Spurs’ Boris Diaw, and the Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James.
The real challenge for Orlando lies in luring Batum away from his happy home in Charlotte. The odds are long, but the Magic’s only hope in doing so would be to rely on the long-forged bond between Batum and Fournier.
The pair have both been involved in the French national basketball team, and both should play a role there for many years, despite the fact the two might not play together at the 2016 Olympics in Rio -- Batum is reportedly going to skip these Olympics to focus on his free agency and potential new team.
Their NBA bromance goes as far back as Fournier’s rookie year with Denver – when Batum encouraged Fournier as Fournier struggled to crack the rotation.
"Obviously, being both from France we have a lot in common," said Fournier after Monday's game against Milwaukee, "I've known Nic for awhile now, so you know we are good friends."
This year’s Charlotte team was a model of the best case for Orlando: a scrappy, All-Star-less squad that played for each other. Though he is often described as a quiet guy, and he wouldn't fill the Magic’s leadership void by himself, Batum is a proven winner. This season will mark his sixth trip to the playoffs in just eight NBA seasons. Under coach Steve Clifford, Batum’s offense has remained constant, but his defense and playmaking have taken a big step forward this year.
Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders told Orlando Pinstriped Post that Fournier’s services will be in high demand this offseason:
"Given the ballooning salary cap, Evan is likely in line for a four-year $55-$60 million offer sheet. There are a number of teams with eyes for Evan so it would not be surprising to see him come in north of that range.
There projects to be more than $1 billion available this summer under the cap, so every team has money they have to spend and there are very few difference makers to spend it on, so what’s an extra million or two if you believe Evan is the right guy.
Keep in mind Wes Matthews signed for 4 years and $70 million last year coming off an Achilles tear."
With some creative accounting, the Magic could retain Fournier, sign Batum, and add another piece – either through free agency or a trade.
Because Batum perfectly fits both the Magic’s personnel and their objective, it may be time for Hennigan to start a French Revolution in Orlando.