Sometimes the quietest moves are the most valuable. For the Orlando Magic, it may not be what they gained this offseason – but what they retained.
Shooting guard Evan Fournier was among the few pleasant surprises in the midst of an overall disappointing 2015-16 season. Tasked with playing a larger role than ever before in his career, he more than exceeded expectations. Fournier posted career-bests in points per game (15.4), three-point percentage (40 percent), and overall field goal percentage (46.2 percent).
Last season's uptick in production almost looked like that of a player like C.J. McCollum, who saw his minutes spike after the departure of a starter. Amazingly, Fournier only played four more minutes per game last season than he did the year previous.
The difference was maturity. Fournier played his way onto the court and silently paced the Magic through the good and the bad. The team needed three-point shooting, and he was their only consistent threat. After the departure of Tobias Harris, they needed a small forward. He'd never played the three, but he gave it a shot.
With the official signing of a five-year $85 million dollar deal on Thursday, it appears that Fournier is here to stay. According to Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel, Fournier turned down three other teams that were offering him more money.
"Because I feel great here," he said when asked about turning down those offers at his press conference on Thursday. "I have the confidence of the front office, of the coach, and you know it means more to me than a team that doesn't really know me and just offers me a lot of money."
"Since day one I said that I wanted to come back, and I was honest."
Even now, Rob Hennigan's first move as Magic general manager is paying dividends. Dwight Howard became Arron Afflalo. Arron Afflalo became Evan Fournier. The player that spurned Orlando for the bright lights brought the humble Frenchman who took a pay cut to help his team.
Fournier was projected to be the highest paid player on his team for a single day. The Magic used this excess salary to acquire free agent center Bismack Biyombo.
For Biyombo's press conference on Thursday, he was welcomed as a hero. Wearing a suit and flanked by his new coach and GM, mobbed by local media, the new signee talked about how he had come to love Orlando. Hours earlier, dressed in a Nike shirt and his signature Euro joggers, Fournier discussed how the love never left him.
Though leadership doesn't come naturally to Fournier, he understands that his role will be increasing in the upcoming years. "Probably I'd say [I'll] be more of a vocal leader, which is a challenge for me with English not being my natural language, but I'll get better [at] that."
One quirk of this year's team is that he may not need to speak English to be a leader, in the front court at least. With the addition of the Congolese pair of Serge Ibaka and Biyombo, Fournier and Nikola Vucevic's French club from last year gained two new members.
There are two skills that Orlando desperately needs for their defense-first team to succeed: scoring and three-point shooting. If the Magic can't score, they will have to go away from this towering lineup.
Evan will be their best option on both fronts. Though it seems that every starter will be asked to assume a bigger workload next season – be it Aaron Gordon playing small forward or Biyombo playing heavy minutes – it seems that Fournier will be the most adapted to fill his new responsibilities.
After all, last season he was asked to defend Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James – the hard part is over. With the paint locked down and a fresh new crop of talent surrounding him, Fournier can relax and focus on what he does best.
Though the goal remains the same from last season, it seems like it's more attainable in Frank Vogel's first year than it was in Scott Skiles'. Instead of Victor Oladipo or Tobias Harris, this offseason's moves were made with one player in mind: Evan Fournier.