Thanks, Magic, for your rebuilding.
Last season, Orlando team president John Hammond decided the nucleus that had made the playoffs two straight years had reached its apex as an eighth-seed wannabe.
Hammond broke up the club and fired his coach, Steve Clifford. Evan Fournier was part of the fire sale, traded to the Celtics last March.
Without any attachment to Boston, it was easy for Fournier to sign with the Knicks as a free agent in August on a four-year, $78 million contract. Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau admitted his friend Clifford, then unemployed and now a Nets consultant, had strong pull in advising him to sign Fournier.
Through two games, Fournier has played as Knicks president Leon Rose envisioned — a bold, clutch 3-point shooter who can take the ball to the basket and already is forming a connection with Julius Randle.
On Friday, Fournier shredded his former team in Orlando (18 points, three assists in 27 minutes) and will face the Magic again Sunday in a rematch at the Garden.
During the preseason, Fournier looked tentative at first while trying to fit in. Then, he had a long talk with the coaches. Now the Frenchman looks like he has been a Knick for years, averaging 25 points and shooting 45 percent from 3-point range.
“Just trying to be myself,’’ Fournier said. “I think if Leon and [general manager] Scott [Perry] brought me here, it’s because they wanted me to be myself. So, I’m just gonna be myself, make my reads, try to bring positive energy, try to bring leadership. I love basketball. I love competing. And I think I really fit with that mentality here with Thibs and all the guys and trying to be a part of something great.’’
As the Magic’s ship started sinking, Fournier was happy to be given a life raft. Orlando went on a spree at the trade deadline, agreeing to deal Nikola Vucevic, Fournier and Aaron Gordon in the space of a few hours.
“Once they pulled the plug with Vuc — because Vuc got traded first to Chicago — I remember it was the one year where I felt, OK, this might happen for real now,’’ Fournier said. ‘When I saw Vuc, I was with my wife at home like, ‘Yeah, honey, we out,’ because obviously you trade Vuc. Then it was myself, then it was Gordon.’’
The Magic (0-2) will be top candidates for the NBA’s worst record, with a host of youngsters headed by a backcourt of Cole Anthony and rookie Jalen Suggs, with Mo Bamba starting at center. Poor Anthony and Bamba — both of whom grew up in New York.
“That’s a rebuild, so a rebuild takes time,’’ Fournier said. “It is definitely gonna take them time to figure it out. It’s not my problem anymore.’’
In signing with the Knicks, Fournier had big defensive shoes to fill in replacing shooting guard Reggie Bullock, who had a strong connection with Randle.
In the second half Friday at Orlando, Randle was at the top of the key and handed it off behind him to Fournier for a 3. Though Fournier missed the shot, the play showed Randle’s trust. On the way downcourt, Fournier slapped Randle on the back, acknowledging the pass.
“The two-man game is a big part of basketball,’’ Fournier said. “Guys around me — Kemba [Walker], Jules, guys that I played against — we all know each other’s games because we’ve been in the league for a while, so I think that helps. It really feels good that guys are enjoying playing with you and we already have chemistry.’’