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NBA PM: Is Evan Fournier The Missing Piece?

After a rough start to the season, the Boston Celtics traded for Evan Fournier – but is he the guy that will get the team back to the Eastern Conference Finals this year?

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Heading into the Mar. 25th trade deadline, it was clear that the Boston Celtics needed to make a move if they wanted to be a competitive playoff team. The Celtics were once thought to be an NBA Finals contender when this season first started, but after a rocky first half where they couldn’t consistently show up to games, something had to change. Many people began to question the leadership and true abilities of All-Stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, but was it due to them? That’s up for debate, but not having starting guards Marcus Smart and Kemba Walker for numerous games played a big role, as well as a lack of scoring outside of the team’s nucleus. 

To attempt to regroup and try to challenge the Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks, the Celtics had to make a move. While most people around the NBA believed Boston would swing a trade for Orlando Magic forward, Aaron Gordon, they instead acquired Evan Fournier for two second-round picks and Jeff Teague. Fournier’s salary didn’t require much, if any, maneuvering by Celtics general manager Danny Ainge because it fit into the traded player exception the team had from the Gordon Hayward sign-and-trade.

Since being elevated to a consistent starting role in the 2015-16 season, Fournier had been one of the best players on the Magic besides, of course, Nikola Vucevic. Since then, Fournier has averaged 16.8 points per game to go along with a 37.6 percent clip from behind the three-point line. These are very good numbers and, for the Celtics, it fills a severe need that the team has lacked length, shooting and bench scoring.

While Fournier very well may permanently start over Marcus Smart or Kemba Walker depending on the matchup, the team likely utilizes him more as a sixth-man/rotational. He will be a much better fit to fill the starting spot left by Kemba Walker on back-to-backs where he’s not in the lineup, while players like Grant Williams, Semi Ojeleye and Tristan Thompson struggled as starters. Fournier is on the books for $17 million this season, according to Spotrac, but the thing that stands out is that his contract ends this season and he can enter unrestricted free agency. 

Celtics general manager Danny Ainge went into the press conference on Mar. 26th with high hopes for the team following the trade deadline. According to The Athletic, Ainge wanted to make an impact move but this past Thursday happened to be the perfect time to pull the trigger. He also went on to say that he expects Fournier to re-sign with the Celtics even though he is slated to enter free agency following this season. Ainge had made it publicly known that the Celtics were looking for another wing with length and consistent shooting as players like Grant Williams, Semi Ojeleye and Javonte Green were just not getting the job done. The good thing: this is exactly Fournier’s game.

In 26 games for the Magic this year, Fournier was in the midst of a career-year 𑁋 he was averaging highs in points, 19.7, and assists, 3.7 while also shooting the three at a 38.8 percent clip. In almost one-third of his games, he scored 25+ points – with his best games coming right at the end of his time in Orlando by dropping 31 points on the Brooklyn Nets and Denver Nuggets, respectively. Fournier is a volume shooter that can score at a high level when given the opportunity, something that the Celtics could use as they so often depend on Brown and Tatum to carry the offensive load.

Does Evan Fournier take the Celtics to the next level and make them into an instant contender? No, that doesn’t seem to be the outcome here. But Fournier does add a much-needed piece for Boston post-Gordon Hayward. If Fournier can come in and provide the scoring and playmaking he is known, everything is gravy. 

However, one knock against Fournier is his defense. This year, Fournier has had a lowly defensive rating of 114.9, per NBA Advanced Stats. This puts him in 109th out of 131 qualified starters, so it’s safe to say that his defense is nothing to write home about. It was rumored that the team was looking for 3- and-D specialists or playmaking forwards that’ll hold it down on the defensive side of the floor. While they failed to get such traits in a trade, the team still has great situational defenders already on the bench. 

Rumors were thrown around about Harrison Barnes and Aaron Gordon being the team’s top trade targets. Ultimately, a deal never came to fruition as the Celtics likely would have had to part with their longest-tenured player in Smart. The addition of Fournier was somewhat of a last-resort option for Danny Ainge to pull, as he wasn’t ideally what the team was looking for on the trade market.

Fournier isn’t a make-or-break option for Ainge and the Celtics as the highly-spoken of TPE was used on him – but it sure feels like it – so expect pressure to succeed in his new role. If he can come in and contribute as soon as he is out of the health and safety protocol, then the Celtics will be a better team.

Naturally, the rest of the season doesn’t ride on Fournier fitting in and producing – but with his past accomplishments, this might just be a rare win-win for everybody involved.

Dylan Thayer is a Contributing Writer for Basketball Insiders, and a Sport Management student in the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst.

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