Our biggest takeaway, at least while trying to wrap our heads around Guerschon Yabusele making the key hustle play as Team USA lost at the Olympics for the first time since 2004, is this: The Celtics only got a tiny slice of the Evan Fournier experience last season.
An aggressive Fournier erupted for 28 points on 11-of-23 shooting and hit the go-ahead 3-pointer -- off a Yabusele hustle save -- as France stunned the US 83-76 in the opening day of pool play at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Fournier showed off the full offensive toolbox. He was aggressive attacking the basket early, including one first-half sequence where he split a foul-plagued Kevin Durant and Jrue Holiday for a layup.
His lone assist of the night was a gem as well when, after catching Zach LaVine napping, Fournier slipped a pass to a cutting Nando de Colo for a backdoor layup.
Fournier went cold for a stretch spanning into the fourth quarter and it looked like Team USA was going to pull away. Instead, a long two-point basket from Fournier with 2:33 to go made it a one-possession game and Fournier added the go-ahead triple after a now spry Yabusele dove into the Team USA bench to save a possession.
That Team USA struggled to match the energy of Yabusele, who is still on Boston’s books for one more season after being stretched in 2019, is rather criminal. But Fournier was fantastic and offered a firm reminder why the Celtics should be willing to splurge to retain his services this summer.
The natural inclination is to suggest that his price tag might climb after a massive win on an international stage. NBA general managers don’t -- or at least they shouldn’t -- make evaluations based on 40 minutes. But we’re all guilty of recency bias and Fournier certainly shined on a big stage.
Boston traded two second-round picks to Orlando to acquire Fournier at the trade deadline using $17.5 million of the Gordon Hayward trade exception. Fournier endured a bout with COVID in Boston and never quite got to show his full potential before Boston got bounced in the opening round of the playoffs.
His shooting talents are obvious but Fournier has the ability to really thrive as a playmaker. The departure of Kemba Walker should open up opportunities to handle the ball more and create shots for both himself and others if he’s back in Boston.
The Celtics have Fournier’s Bird rights and can splurge to retain him this summer. The question is how much are they willing to pay him, and for how long? If maintaining cap flexibility for pursuit of another star is important to Boston, then a short-term deal would be ideal. But the Celtics should be prepared to pay a hefty price tag regardless of length, particularly if others make a run at Fournier's services.
If Fournier’s market eclipses what Boston is willing to pay, there will be potential sign-and-trade avenues to recoup value, likely in the form of draft assets and a trade exception.
But glimpses like Sunday’s Olympic opener are a reminder of why the Celtics were willing to roll the dice on an impending free agent. The Celtics need shooting around Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, they need playmaking, and they need someone who isn’t afraid of the moment. Fournier offers a lot of what the Celtics lost when Hayward signed with Charlotte.
Fournier struggled, defensively, in the playoffs against the Nets and his limitations on that side of the ball are undeniably a consideration in how much the Celtics should be willing to spend. He’s not nearly the defender that Hayward was but for a Celtics team with limited means of adding or retaining talent, they might have to be willing to splurge.
About the only negative for Fournier on Sunday came when Tatum was nearby. Tatum finished a transition layup over Fournier in the first half and also swatted one of his shots.
But it was Fournier owning crunch time while Tatum spent much of it on the bench. Tatum, who didn’t start for Team USA, finished with 9 points on 3-of-9 shooting with two blocks and two turnovers. His shot continues to defy him in this Olympic experience and he couldn’t give Team USA the boost it needed with Durant in foul trouble the entire game.