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Evan Fournier Using Versatility, Rebuilding Situation To Maximize Opportunity

In his third NBA season, Evan Fournier is in the midst of a breakout year with the Orlando Magic. After starting just eight games over two seasons with the Denver Nuggets, he has started in every game he has played for the Magic this season.

The Denver Nuggets traded Fournier as part of a package for Arron Afflalo this past June and the early returns are tilting towards Orlando.

Fournier, 22, became a more important member of Denver’s rotation as the 13-14 season progressed, topping out at more than 27 minutes per game in April. In his final eight games with the Nuggets, he averaged 13.9 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists on 39.8% shooting.

Magic general manager Rob Hennigan saw something he liked in Fournier, who has become a value perimeter player under coach Jacque Vaughn.

“Evan has been really good for us,” Vaughn said. “He’s accepting the challenge defensively, which I have been really pleased with. His ability to guard two [positions]. He’s big for a guard so that gives us a great luxury as a team.”

At 6-foot-7 and more than 200 pounds, he can be deployed as a defender anywhere on the perimeter. Vaughn values that versatility, which comes on the other side of the ball as well.

“He’s done a lot of other things that he had done previously as far as shooting the basketball, having the basketball in his hands,” the coach added. “We will give it to him at the end of quarters. As another ball-handler on the floor he’s been really good for us.”

The ability to play multiple positions has become more common than it was a decade or two ago due an influx of European players. Fournier can execute anywhere on the court thanks to a development that was overseen by French instructors.

“It’s natural enough for me to play either position,” Fournier told RealGM of sliding between point and shooting guard. “My first two years as a professional in France I played a little bit of point guard, but it’s not my natural position. It’s basketball. You learn how to play all five positions in Europe. I may not be strong enough, but guys like me even learn big man fundamentals.”

Fournier has had a different head coach in each of his three seasons and Vaughn isn’t the first to use him away from his natural position. George Karl played him at the point during his rookie season when Ty Lawson went down with an injury, allowing him to play what was then the best basketball of his NBA career.

“My first year under George Karl I played the one because Lawson was hurt. That was actually when I started to play really good because I’m usually bigger and stronger than typical point guards,” Fournier said. “The two is my natural position, but if I can help the team by moving over that’s great.”

As a team the Magic are at a different stage of development than the Nuggets, giving Fournier a chance to play a ton of minutes as he develops his game. He has embraced the challenge through the first third of the season.

In close to 33 minutes per game, he is averaging 14.4 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists on 44.9% shooting. He’s shooting 39.3% from three and trails only Channing Frye (52) on the Magic in made threes (44).

“I think I’ve started the season strong. New team, new teammates and new system. More playing time also, so it has been all very exciting for me,” Fournier admitted. “Now we’re just trying to get better as a team since a lot of our best players have been injured. The main objective is to get better as a group.”

One of the injured players he is referring to is Victor Oladipo, who missed the first nine games of the season. Couple that with a rookie backup point guard (Elfrid Payton) and Fournier handled the ball a lot for the Magic early on. Vaughn is comfortable putting the ball in his hands and for good reason.

Fournier is committing just 11.3 turnovers per 100 possessions, the lowest rate of his career. Oladipo’s rate is 18.2 and Payton’s 22.0. Fournier has grown on the court in part due to his experience with the French national team this past summer.

“I had the World Championships, which changed a lot of my offseason plans,” Fournier said. “I was playing games all summer long with the French national team, which was a great learning experience. We won the bronze medal, which the best we’ve ever done. I’m very proud of it and it was just another way to learn. You can talk to Boris Diaw and Tony Parker and all these guys who have more experience.”

Like many European players before him, Fournier benefited from having learned multiple roles as a young player. As we talk, tape of the Boston Celtics, Wednesday night’s opponent, runs from a recent game against Philadelphia 76ers. 

“Look there,” he nudges me. “[Alexey] Shved just played the one, but he’s a two. Overseas when you grow up, when you’re young, you don’t play a fixed position. You play one, two, three, four. It makes things easier because you learn more about the game and you also get a lot of opportunities.”

Brad Stevens Appears To Reach Breaking Point, All But Calls Celtics Soft

Brad Stevens is the NBA’s youngest coach at the age of 38 and he appears to have reached a breaking point of sorts in the early stages of his second season with the Boston Celtics. 

Expectations weren’t high following a 25-win season, but they are a disappointing 5-11 even after an overtime win over the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday. A victory against the Chicago Bulls on Nov. 8 put them at 3-3, but a run of eight losses in 10 games has moved the Celtics toward the bottom of the Eastern Conference. 

Stevens, a native of Indiana, exudes Midwestern charm and has won over Boston fans with his boyish looks, calm demeanor and positive attitude -- which oddly enough aren’t traits typically associated with New England. Stevens is among the most dedicated and hardest-working men in basketball. In order to move up the ranks from volunteer to full-time assistant to head coach at Butler in less than seven years, a relentless work ethic is required. 

Your drive must then become legendary to jump straight to the game’s highest level with just a handful of years of head coaching experience.

Stevens knew when he accepted Danny Ainge’s offer that winning wouldn’t come easy. The Celtics continue to transition in the aftermath of the Big Three Era and the future is still questionable with Rajon Rondo only signed through the end of the season. Effort hasn’t been an issue for the team under Stevens, but recently he has started to tire of a maturation process that is still very much active. 

“Maybe I have not done a good job of recognizing that it is a process because I’m not really all that interested in the process, even though that all I used to talk about,” Stevens said bluntly. 

The DePauw alum is refreshingly honest, but it didn’t take him long to learn how to master the art of saying something without really saying anything -- a virtue that Bill Belichick introduced and has spread among Boston’s professional coaching ranks. Stevens began to show cracks in his veneer on Tuesday night after the Celtics blew a 23-point lead and lost to the Hawks in Atlanta.

“When it comes easy, we’ve been good," Stevens told reporters after the loss. "When it gets tough, we haven't. … Simple formula."

With 24 hours and a flight back to Boston to ruminate on his team’s struggles, Stevens remained frustrated in their inability to close out games and string together a consistent 48 minutes of basketball. 

“A lot of people have asked me ‘Does this team need to learn how to win?’ and I’ve been bristling at the question because we all see that we want to get over the hump,” Stevens admitted. “I don’t know. Maybe there is some of that.”

Boston coughed up a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter against Detroit, needing an extra five minutes to get past the three-win Pistons. The win came with both good and bad omens. A win is a win, but yet again they couldn’t maintain a double-digit lead. Stevens paused for a moment when asked after the game if he was pleased with his club’s physicality.

“I thought we were really good as far as handling the pressure late. What did we end up with, 12 turnovers? In an overtime game, that’s pretty good,” he elaborated. “I thought that obviously their interior got us a little bit, but their interior gets a lot of people. I thought it was a better response. 

“We needed to respond, but I’m not going to overreact we’ve only done it one game.”

The Celtics are just 3-7 in games featuring margins of five points or less in the final five minute, an indication that they play smallest at the biggest moments.

“One of the responsibilities that I feel like I have is that we’ve got to get some of these young guys, whether they are ready for it or not, to be the guy that is making a play, not only to make a big basket late in the game but to stop a run,” Stevens said. “Just having the toughness or desire to want to make that play and I got to do a better job of making those guys believe it.”

Physicality has been one of Stevens’ favorite words as of late, a diplomatic way for the coach to harp on his team for being soft without creating a salacious headline.

“It’s being able to operate with any kind of physicality on both ends of the floor,” he said when asked to define physicality. “Inevitably, the game is going to ramp up a notch, people are going to get into you, people are going to be physical with you and you have to get to where you want to go on cuts with or without the ball regardless of that contact. I think on the other end of the court, you have to be able to direct people, within the rules of the game and without fouling, hold your ground and take away spots. That’s going to be impacted by you some because of the strength factor, so that’s what I’m referring to when I talk about physicality.”

Reading between the lines, you can take those 120 words a variety of ways. He may subtly be calling out his team, or simply stating facts as a guy with a front row seat to how the Celtics have played over the last few weeks. It’s hard to quantity physicality, but only the New York Knicks attempt fewer free throws than Boston. Maybe he has a point.

Brad Stevens does nice guy about as well as anyone in the NBA, but his patience is wearing thin. It may not be long before he takes a page from Stan Van Gundy, his coaching counterpart on Wednesday night. After losing to the Los Angeles Lakers the night before, Van Gundy called his team “messed up.” 

When pressed to elaborate on what has frustrated him about his team, Stevens refused to use the word soft but it floated in the air at the TD Garden like the snow flurries that are so common this time of year.

Grading The Deal: Lance Stephenson Leaves Pacers For Hornets

The Indiana Pacers must find a way to replace Lance Stephenson midway through the offseason. Stephenson has agreed to a three-year, $27.5 million contract with the Charlotte Hornets. The third season is a team option.

As my RealGM colleague Shams Charania reported, Stephenson met with Michael Jordan and other team officials in Las Vegas on Tuesday night when the offer was presented. The Pacers offered Stephenson a five-year, $44 million deal shortly after free agency opened on July 1, but the two sides were not on the same page as time progressed. The Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls and Dallas Mavericks all had varying degrees of interest in Stephenson as well.

Stephenson’s agent, Al Ebanks, told Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star that his client was seeking a short-term deal, which explains why he wasn’t quick to take more guaranteed money from the Pacers with an additional two years of security. Stephenson will make $1.5 million more in Charlotte this coming season than he would have under the reported Indiana offer. The total value of the Pacers’ offer was $16.5 million greater.

Four years after Larry Bird gambled on Stephenson in the second round of the 2010 NBA Draft, Stephenson is gambling on himself. Even if the Hornets exercise the third-year option on his contract, Stephenson will be an unrestricted free agent once again at just 26 years old.

Grade for Stephenson: B-

There are two reasons why Stephenson is taking a calculated risk. There will be a larger offensive role for Stephenson in Charlotte, which could increase his value down the line. In addition, the NBA’s current television rights agreement ends after the 2015-16 season. Reports have indicated that the league will look to double the current fee, which would have a huge impact on future salary cap numbers and contract figures.

With that said, Stephenson is taking a chance. If he doesn’t continue to develop, which most expect him to do on a young, emerging team, he may not earn back the money he left on the table over the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons (the back end of the initial Indiana offer). He also loses some the shine that comes from playing for a contender, which the Pacers may no longer be without him.

Ebanks stressed Stephenson’s desire for a shorter term deal than the Pacers offered, but the elephant in the room is the fact that he didn’t get that much more money. The average annual value of the Charlotte deal is just $300,000 greater than he have earned with Indiana. That leaves us to decide whether Stephenson was left hanging when the market died up and the Pacers moved on, or he truly valued hitting the market again in three years over waiting until his late 20s.

The Pacers will undoubtedly miss Stephenson, who provided much of their edge during the 2014 postseason, but it seems plausible that one of two things happened during negotiations. They pulled $44M offer off the table when Stephenson hesitated, or they offered him a five-year deal knowing full well that he wasn’t going to sign a contract of that length. Either way, Bird made a decision on how he valued Lance and didn’t budge.

I reached out to both sides asking if Indiana’s initial offer was still on the table up until the Hornets agreement, but both declined to comment.

Grade for Pacers: D+

Indiana deserves some credit for standing firm with their offer, especially in team’s NBA, but this loss cannot be looked at solely in a vacuum.

The Miami Heat took a step back with the loss of LeBron James, opening up the short-term window for the Pacers to contend. When LeBron left for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who will need some seasoning before reaching an elite level, Bird and Co. should have seen it as an opportunity to finally get back to the NBA Finals. The Eastern Conference is no longer top-heavy, but with Stephenson re-signed the Pacers would have been the favorite among a number of possible contenders -- including Miami, Cleveland, Chicago, Washington and Toronto.

Chemistry will often be mentioned as a positive for the Pacers with Stephenson gone, but that’s overstated. He may have cost himself a few million with his antics against the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, but Indiana will severely miss his offensive tools and competitive nature.

The Pacers had the best defense in the NBA in 2013-14, but they scored just 104.1 points per 100 possessions, which ranked 23rd. Stephenson was often the only player on the roster capable of jumpstarting Frank Vogel’s offense when it stalled. He is volatile, and at times selfish, but can be a creative and willing passer. He led the Pacers in assists this past season.

Indiana needed help on the offensive end, even after signing C.J. Miles and Damjan Rudez earlier this month, and the loss of Stephenson compounds the issue. Bird will almost certainly have to address the need via trade, unless the club is able to shed salary in a deal and sign a free agent outright. The market isn’t exactly flush with options at this point and if a cash-saving trade was easy, one might have already been made to free up space for a larger Stephenson offer or to target someone that is already signed.

Rodney Stuckey and O.J. Mayo have been mentioned in the past and present as options. Stuckey is a free agent, while Mayo would have to be acquired from the Bucks via trade.

Adding Stephenson looks like an odd move for the Hornets on the surface, but considering the current state of the Eastern Conference it helps their chances of making the playoffs for the second-straight season. Charlotte has Gerald Henderson and Gary Neal at shooting guard, which may mean a trade is forthcoming.

Signing Stephenson for roughly $9 million annually is good value, even if it carries risk as he becomes the second option on a good team after being the fourth option on a very good team.

Grade for Hornets: B

Kemba Walker, who will be a restricted free agent next summer, stands to lose the most. Stephenson is at his best with the ball in his hands, which will reduce opportunities for the third-year guard. Stephenson was Plan B for the Hornets, who signed Gordon Hayward to a four-year, $63 million offer sheet and then watched the Utah Jazz match it over the weekend. If the Jazz let Hayward go to the Hornets, Stephenson might have been forced to re-sign with the Pacers.

Like the Pacers, the Bobcats tend to struggle offensively. That means more latitude for Stephenson, but how will he handle himself without as much veteran leadership, fewer meaningful games and suddenly flush with cash remains to be seen.

Grading The Deal: Celtics Capitalize In Three-Team Deal With Cavs, Nets

Itís hard to assume what else the Celtics could have done with the $10.3 million trade exception, but receiving what they did is a very nice haul. Adding a seven-footer to your rotation and a first-round pick is an obvious win, but Thorntonís expiring deal brings other options as well.

Grading The Deal: Celtics Keep Avery Bradley

The Celtics seem confident Avery Bradley will be healthy and that heís not done developing.

The Market For Lance Stephenson

No matter how strong the mutual interest in between the Pacers and Lance Stephenson, itís money that determines most offseason decisions.

What They Said: Rundown From 2014 NBA Draft Night

A deep draft class means there was plenty of consternation regarding who would end up where and that many of the leagueís newest players were in attendance on the biggest night of their life. Hereís a rundown of what they had to say moments after realizing their dream.

David West Plays Vital Role In Helping T.J. Warren Realize NBA Dream

T.J. Warren is the first player drafted that worked directly with David West through his AAU Garner Road Basketball Club program.

McDermott Looks At 2014 Draft Class In Historical Terms

Doug McDermott believes the 2014 NBA Draft will eventually rank among the best in league history.

Heat Throttle Pacers, Who End Once-Promising Season Miserably

The Pacers owned the first four minutes of Game 6 before the Heat turned on the jets and coasted into the NBA Finals for the fourth year in a row.

George Erupts In Fourth, Pacers Hold On To Force Game 6 Against Heat

Paul George scored 21 points in the fourth quarter and LeBron James was hampered by foul trouble as the Pacers topped the Heat to force a Game 6 back in Miami.

Pacers Wallow Through Game 4 Loss, Face Early Elimination Against Heat

Chris Bosh scored the game's first eight points and the Heat never looked back in Game 4, pushing the Pacers to the brink as the series moves back to Indianapolis.

Pacers Lose Control In Second Quarter, Heat Dominate Second Half To Win Game 3

After the Pacers built a 15-point lead in the second quarter, Ray Allen helped the Heat put them away with a three-point barrage midway through the fourth.

LeBron, Wade Dominate Late, Pacers Miss Chance To Take Commanding Lead

The Pacers were a few minutes away from taking a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals when LeBron James and Dwyane Wade went on a game-winning run to save the Heat.

76ers Promising Rookies Playing Time, Big Market

The 76ers, who have the third and tenth picks, are promising rookies playing time and a big platform in Philadelphia with the chance to improve immediately.

Pacers Come To Play, Take Game 1 Against Heat

The Pacers took Game 1 against the Heat thanks to their best offensive effort of the postseason, shooting 52% and assisting on 23 of their 35 field goals in a 107-96 victory on Sunday afternoon.

West Takes Control, Pacers Respond Late To Eliminate Wizards

David West put the Pacers on his back when the Wizards briefly took the lead in the fourth quarter of Game 6, ensuring a long-awaited rematch with the Heat.

Bucks Prepared To Cash In At Lottery, Execute Quick Rebuild

Since the Bucks can finish no worse than fourth in the draft order, they can rest assured they will land either Wiggins, Parker, Embiid, Dante Exum or Julius Randle. With a free agent class that could be top-heavy if any number of stars opt for the open market, they can then go about adding a talented veteran to augment their young core.

Wizards Outwork Pacers, Dominate Game 5

With a chance to send the Wizards home, the Pacers showed little effort or energy in a 102-79 loss in Game 5. They are now headed back to Washington, D.C. with all their momentum gone.

George Refuses To Lose, Pacers Storm Back In Game 4

The Pacers are one win away from the Eastern Conference Finals after rallying from a 19-point deficit in the third quarter on Sunday night to take Game 4 over the Wizards.

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