Evan Fournier scored 21 points in France’s Olympic quarterfinals victory over Italy after scoring a $78 million dollar deal to play full-time at “The World’s Most Famous Arena.’’
The new starting Knicks shooting guard sounded more excited about the latter.
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“I enjoy pressure, I enjoy the spotlight,’’ Fournier said after the Tuesday victory, hours after signing with the Knicks at the beginning of free agency Monday. “They had a good season and they had a really good spot open. I thought I could help. God, it’s freaking New York. You want to be part of something big, you want to have pressure, you want to be a guy that competes every night.”
It was the middle of the night in Tokyo when free agency began and Fournier told his agent he didn’t want to be disturbed.
When he woke up, the 27-year-old said he had a handful offers on the table, including from the Celtics, who acquired him from Orlando at the March deadline.
Fournier said the Celtics were his “priority” entering the offseason, but then the Knicks came calling.
“I’m glad it’s over,’’ Fournier said.
Fournier said he wanted to play for Tom Thibodeau, who is close friends with former Magic head coach Steve Clifford. While in Orlando, current Knicks GM Scott Perry acquired Fournier from Denver for Aaron Afflalo in what turned out to be a steal for the Magic.
When Fournier made his return to Orlando late last season with Boston, Clifford said, “There’s nothing more important when you play 82 games than having a guy who you never have to worry whether he’s going to try hard. It was a given with him. Played hurt, played really hurt, always ready to play, always into the game plan and badly wanted to win.”
According to an Orlando source, Clifford regarded Fournier as among his favorite players to coach. It’s believed Clifford and Thibodeau spoke about Fournier before the Knicks made him the centerpiece of their free agency.
“I’d bet the Knicks signed him because Clifford raved to Thibs about how much Fournier wants to win and is about all the right things,’’ the Orlando source said. “Cliff says that Fournier is one of the toughest players — mentally and physically — that he’s ever coached.’’
Fournier was a disappointment early in his career but came into his own the past two seasons as a sweet-shooting scorer. He is now starring for Team France.
In 2019-20, he averaged 18.5 points on 47 percent overall shooting. Last season, he averaged 21 points and shot 41.3 percent from beyond the arc.
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Fournier will replace the departed Reggie Bullock, who came up small in the first-round playoff loss to Atlanta. Although Fournier was a member of a lot of losing teams in Orlando and has never been out of the first round of the playoffs, he has played in the last three postseasons.
In 19 playoff games, Fournier has shot just 37 percent from the field. Against the Nets in the first round, Fournier averaged 15.4 points on 42.9 percent shooting – 43.3 percent from three-point range.
And he currently he has France in the Olympic semifinals with last week’s victory over Team USA one of his proudest accomplishments.