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Evan Fournier is a pro. Will he also become a distraction?

No holds barred anymore between Eves and Thibs as the Knicks return home

2023 New York Knicks Media Day Photo by Michael J. LeBrecht II/NBAE via Getty Images

“Maybe I’m crazy,” Evan Fournier said. “I don’t know.”

The New York Knicks held their final practice at The Citadel, SC, before returning to New York City ahead of their preseason debut on Monday when they’ll host the Boston Celtics inside Madison Square Garden.

Everybody was present from day one to the final session, unlike in other places.

Was that good news? Hard to know, but the signs could be seen as conflicting.

Let’s add a bit of context before taking on the latest news emerging from Knicks Camp.

Back on Media Day last Monday, Thibodeau touched on the ostracised Evan Fournier saying that he has “great respect for [Fournier],” and reasoning the decision of benching him midway through November under a “plus-five net rating.”

“Hard to argue,” Thibs said.

Hours, days, and nearly a week passed and Fournier was always there, honing his skills, tossing some passes with teammates and coaches, and hoisting some shots (bagging them) from all across the floor.

So after five days of preparation, Fournier was finally assaulted for good by media members reporting live on location. That includes the extraordinary Kristian Winfield of the New York Daily News, who shared a clip that has nothing but gone viral in the Knicksverse.

A little after that video emerged and hit all timelines on X, Stefan Bondy of the New York Post covered Fournier’s comments in a story for the outlet adding a little bit more information and background.

Bondy fully transcribed Fournier’s comments after practice as follows.

“I might be dreaming of stuff, but to me, I can help the team. Like I’m a good player. I can fucking play. I bring stuff that this team doesn’t have, too. So, I have hope to play, to be honest. I have hope to play. Maybe I’m crazy, I don’t know. Maybe Thibs has already made up his mind and stuff, but my goal is to put him in a position where he has to think about playing me.”

First and foremost, you have to give kudos to this man. Yes, he’s scheduled to land a sweet $19 million payment in his bank account by the end of the 2024 season. Under the same terms, you bet I’d be sitting here 25 hours a day typing whatever was needed until my laptop’s keyboard got burned and buried.

Also yes: Fournier was benched in November, told he wasn’t getting back to the court any time soon, reappeared for a six-game stint at the end of the 2022 calendar year and into 2023, then in a few more sprinkled games here and there, and lastly in the final four games of regular-season play before calling it a year, cause there was no “post” attached to his 2023 season.

Fournier first discussed his present and future within the Knicks organization in an interview with L’Equipe last July. He said that felt like “spitting on everyone,” although according to Bondy’s story, he didn’t mean it literally.

“It’s basically saying you want to tell everyone ‘fuck off’ because you’re so upset, you don’t want to talk to anyone,” Fournier said. “I’m not gonna walk in the gym and spit on people—Come on, man.”

Another interesting thing Fournier told reporters on Saturday is that he’s not planning on holding out for the season, even though he’s been basically put in that position by default as Thibs has zero plans to use him going forward.

Fournier mentioned Jae Crowder as a player pulling off a holdout and the exact strategy he doesn’t want to follow, referencing the former Suns wing, saying, “That’s not the smart approach.”

The Frenchman made clear, “When you’re under contract, you have to honor your contract,” which is simply what he’s doing this preseason as part of the Knicks organization.

This summer, Fournier was called up by the France national squad for the FIBA World Cup. That was never in doubt because 1) Fournier is one the best players available for the country, and 2) Fournier had played enough and stayed reasonably active (while rested) throughout the NBA season to be considered fit to play.

Next summer, the 2024 Olympics will take place... in Paris of all places and with France coming off making the Gold Medal game against Team USA in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Fournier led France with 16 points in the final back then. Fournier, three years after that this summer, had three games of 17+ points in the World Cup and dropped 27 pops on Latvia to go with 21 against Canada. France crashed out in the First Round, but Fournier is still one of the most important (and highly respected) players for his country, full stop.

If you’re familiar with world soccer, and perhaps even if you’re not (because it’s so obvious), then you know how things operate in the top European leagues when a World Cup (which is similar in relevance to the Olympics in basketball terms) approaches.

Elite players buried in the rotation of their teams try to find a way out of them to join subpar squads even if that means missing out on playing at the absolute top of the football pyramid and for a mid-table club instead of one playing continental tournaments. The reason? Log as many minutes as possible, showcase their talents, stay fit, and convince international head coaches they deserve a place in the final roster called up for World Cup play.

Basketball doesn’t operate entirely the same way, not for superstars (American and international) plying their trade in the NBA, and most players are going to keep getting their minutes and playing on a nightly basis, whether that comes in better or worse environments/teams/contexts.

Perhaps Fournier is starting to feel the heat and the pressure. Perhaps Fournier has realized he’s already on the wrong side of 30 and that not playing at all will hurt him for the rest of his career. One year in limbo wouldn’t force him into retirement, of course, but this year in limbo could definitely hurt him next summer.

I am of the opinion that Fournier is not entirely wrong when he constantly claims he can “help the team,” he is “a good player,” and simply he can “fucking play.” He should have it hard breaking the Knicks rotation and I wouldn’t be that pleased with him taking minutes from other guards/wings as he’s a traffic cone on defense, but he’s more than a qualified, professional basketball player with a particularly valuable skill.

Fournier found the perfect moment and situation to let everybody know on Saturday that he “brings stuff that this time doesn’t have,” supposedly referring to his three-point prowess. Fournier, mind you, set a franchise record in 2022 when he scored 41 three-point field goals. Julius Randle sits second on the all-time list at a distant 218 (on worse percentages), and John Starks ranks third with 217. No other Knick has ever dropped 190+ treys in a single campaign.

The former Orlando Magic franchise player became a full-time starter in 2015. Since then, he’s been one of 29 players with at least five single seasons of 34%+ three-point shooting while hoisting 5+ 3PA per game. He finished in the top 20 on the 3PM leaderboard in 2020 and 2022. He might only know how to bag three-point buckets, but that’s worth something.

The Knicks, however, are doing the right thing as a basketball organization by holding onto a valuable (whatever value you assign Fournier) asset until the opportunity to flip it in exchange for something interesting pops up out of nowhere.

So far, so good with the vibes around the Knicks camp to start the year. According to Ben Krimmel of SNY, Jalen Brunson called Fournier “the ultimate professional,” acknowledging that it is a “very tough situation to be in” for the Frenchman.

Fornier definitely wasn’t a distraction last season judging by the nonexistent reports of any type of clash between him and the Knicks coaches/brass/players throughout the season.

Those little issues emerged in the summer, and they are very public now, with Thibs and Fournier entering an in-the-distance war of words that we don’t really know where might end. The player is under contract for the season (and he also has a team option attached to his deal for next year) and is considered a valuable expiring deal to dangle ahead of the trade deadline on Feb. 8th.

There are still, exactly, four months left to navigate by the Knicks and Fournier unless he gets traded before that day.

Fournier is not James Harden, and he has barely disrupted the way the Knicks have organized their practices and schemed their games, basically because Tom Thibodeau doesn’t count on him while the Sixers would love to have their own disgruntled player logging minutes nightly.

It’s a night-and-day type of comparison, but Fournier won’t relent, and nobody seems willing to shut up anymore when talking about one another, be it Thibs, be it Eves. Whether that ends up hurting the overall team chemistry and comradery, we don’t really know and can only hope the answer is a resounding “no.”

In the most positive way, let’s hope for a trade happening sooner than later so the Knicks can stay their course and Fournier can get the playing time he feels he deserves far from NYC and on his way to Paris next summer. Unless he keeps talking, tanking his perceived value (if there is anything left), and giving New York little to no leverage in future negotiations.

Très magnifique!