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Continuing the 2019-20 season comes with significant basketball-related risk for free agents like Evan Fournier

Evan Fournier is lining up for a big payday this offseason. Returning to meaningless games after months of isolation could jeopardize all of that.

Portland Trail Blazers v Orlando Magic Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

By any measure, Evan Fournier just put together the best single season in his eight-year career.

Given his disappointing play in 2018-19, that was anything but a certainty. Though head coach Steve Clifford was quick to praise Fournier’s improved defensive play last season, offensively he just couldn’t seem to find his rhythm.

“Obviously, I’m disappointed in the way I shot the ball this year,” Fournier said in 2019. “It was like my worst year as far as just making shots. It’s just for some reason I couldn’t make freakin’ shots, and I’m going to fix that. ”

Fournier proved true to his word, reaching highs in points (18.8), three-point percentage (40.6) and effective field goal percentage (56.4).

Now, after having earned the rewards that come with such a successful campaign in a contract year, Fournier (and free agents like him) has more to lose than many NBA players.

The Risks

The NBA suspended its play on March 11th, following the positive testing of Utah Jazz center, Rudy Gobert for COVID-19. Since that time, the NBA has feverishly looked for a solution to the 2019-20 season. From a permanent closure to the inception of the “bubble,” an isolated area for nearly 450 NBA athletes and essential personnel to congregate and participate in its conclusion, the NBA has seemingly left no stone unturned.

Every NBA athlete from Gobert to Donovan Mitchell and Karl-Anthony Towns knows all too well that dangers that come from exposing themselves and their loved ones to this deadly pandemic. The trust lies in the NBA league office, owners and CDC to provide the best information and resources towards preventative measures.

But other risks beyond the disease exist for players like Evan Fournier - basketball related risks.

For one, many of these athletes have minimal access to equipment, much less a basketball court. During a typical offseason, the Magic have near to half a year of time for rehabilitation and extensive training before being reintroduced to basketball activities. The Magic’s strength and conditioning staff have taken measured steps to keep their athletes in the best condition possible given the circumstance, even transporting equipment to their homes.

Noble gesture but there’s no substitute for the real thing. The NBA’s regular season is a carefully concocted marathon, aimed to regulate and hone each athletes’ body to be ready for the rigors of the playoff atmospheres that follows. While some athletes like our own Jameer Nelson were simply thrown into the Finals fire, in many situations we’ve seen tragedy come to those who walk before they crawl.

Asking many to play in the most meaningful minutes of their NBA season after what could be just three weeks of fully supervised team activity is a calculated risk beyond just the fears surrounding the pandemic.

Expecting these players to be in playoff-ready game shape is nearly laughable. While there still exists a possibility for a few “warm-up games,” the NBA can’t afford to risk many just to get athletes feet wet.

We’ll all soon find that the risk involved in completing a few regular season games for teams out of contention far outweighs any reward. The anticipated 20 to 25 percent earnings lost in the 2019-20 season will be mostly be recouped in 2020-21 thanks to a bit of cap smoothing. That may negatively effect those athletes who don’t earn a roster spot in 2020 but aside from those 30 to 60 players out of 450, most every athlete should emerge nearly unscathed financially.

A quick breakdown:

The NBA holds 10 percent of player’s earnings in escrow. Invoking Force Majeure could recoup some of what could be $1.2 billion lost if all regular season and playoff games are lost.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, players may be docked one percent of pay per regular season game. For Fournier, that would mean $2.89 million of his $17 million withheld.

While a laughably high number for a common man, in terms of what Fournier has at stake this offseason, it’s very little. Fournier was one of the best three-point shooters this season, taking and making 40.6 percent of his 6.3 shots from deep. Fournier ranked in the 85th percentile in points per shot attempt (121.5), 81st in assist percentage (16.1), 85th in three-point percentile and 94th from the corner (52 percent). Fournier was solid initiating the offense as a pick-and-roll handler, grading in the 77th percentile, and excelled as a spot up shooter (84 percent).

Finding a Suitor

While potential big-spending suitors are scarce this offseason, six teams with max-level space could make a play at signing Fournier. The Atlanta Hawks could use Fournier as an upgrade at shooting guard over Kevin Huerter. The New York Knicks are desperate for talent at every position and Fournier could have control of the offense with R.J. Barrett as the complementary scorer. In Detroit, Fournier could play alongside Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin, battling for the eighth seed with the Magic. While the Hornets, Cavaliers and Suns wouldn’t seem to make ideal partners, the Memphis Grizzlies have an insane level to spend. Sliding Fournier into the starting position there could allow Dillon Brooks to shift into the sixth man role, improving the team’s depth.

There also always exists the possibility of the sign-and-trade, something the Houston Rockets implemented with Chris Paul two offseasons ago.

Ultimately, the Magic’s priority should be to re-sign Fournier as they have no means to replace him financially outside of the draft or by the mid-level exception.

However, for players like Fournier it is critical to reach this offseason healthy. While this concern exists every season, the situation presented is an unprecedented one. Fournier has no access to team personnel or equipment. He’ll be quite literally asked to go from 0 to 60 during the season’s most critical moments. A devastating injury could be costly not only to Fournier but to the franchise whom may be depending on him this season and beyond.

Regardless of his future in Orlando, the proposition the NBA is offering to some players in suspect situations is a troublesome one. Fournier and teammate D.J. Augustin aren’t playing for a chance at the NBA Finals. Their motivation to complete the season is far beneath that of aging superstars with title aspirations like LeBron James, James Harden and Chris Paul.

The Magic aren’t contending regardless of a finish in the seventh or eighth seed.

So, for players like Fournier, does the reward of finishing the season outweigh the risk?

You can follow Preston Ellis on Twitter here.