Nikola Vucevic supports buddy Evan Fournier, says guard ‘still has a very major place in the NBA’ – The Denver Post


CHICAGO — It’s difficult for Nikola Vucevic to see his good friend and former teammate drilled to the Knicks’ bench, especially in the prime of Evan Fournier’s career.

But Vucevic is also impressed with the class Fournier has exhibited through the adversity, and he’s confident the Frenchman’s NBA career will be resurrected — whether with the Knicks or elsewhere.

“Absolutely [it’s tough for him],” Vucevic, the Bulls center and two-time All-Star, told the Daily News. “One thing about him, he’s a huge competitor. He plays to win. He gives it all up. For sure it’s difficult for him to not be out there and not being able to play. Especially when he’s into his best years right now and he’s coming off a good season as well.

“So it sucks for him to not play. But one thing I respect about him is he’s staying a pro throughout it all. Very supportive of his teammates. You never hear him say anything bad or negative to the press about anything, anyone. You got to respect that. That’s hard for a guy who is on the top of his game and very well-respected around the league. To just be out of the rotation is very difficult to deal with.”

Vucevic and Fournier played six seasons together with the Orlando Magic, leading the franchise to its only two playoff appearances since Dwight Howard left. The chemistry they built in the two-man game extended off the court, where the Europeans shared similar interests and a fluency in French.

Following Wednesday night’s game between the Knicks and Bulls — when the 30-year-old Fournier picked up his 15th consecutive DNP — the pair went to dinner and reminisced about their Orlando years.

“Our two-man game was really good,” Vucevic said. “We knew each other’s game really well. Had a good feel for each other’s strengths on the court, and we were really good at utilizing that. And I think it also helps when you build such a strong relationship off the court. It’s hard to find that.”

New York’s plans of a similar on-court connection between Fournier and Julius Randle never gained traction. Fournier, who signed a three-year, $54 million contract in 2021, settled into a different role last season as mostly a spot-up 3-point shooter, performing it well enough to set the franchise record for 3-pointers in a season. But coach Tom Thibodeau, in search of better defense, quickly pulled Fournier from the rotation for Quentin Grimes.

It’s hard to argue with the recent results — the Knicks (15-13) have won five straight — but Vucevic believes Fournier’s skillset makes him an NBA asset.

“Absolutely. He has many skills. His shooting is great. He’s great in the two-man game. A very smart player. Players like him are very needed around the NBA,” Vucevic said. “Not to start anything or whatever, but I’m sure if it doesn’t happen with the Knicks, I’m sure it’ll happen somewhere else.”

The Knicks have engaged in trade talks and the Lakers, a team in desperate need of shooting, are reportedly among those to express interest. Fournier’s contract (he’s guaranteed nearly $19 million next season) makes him difficult to move, but, as Vucevic said, the shooting guard has a desired skillset in the NBA.

“One thing when you watch and doesn’t worry you, is that people know his value and his quality and his level of play,” Vucevic said. “So it’s not like he was horrible and he was shut down and doesn’t have it anymore. He was still playing well. It was just a decision that Thibs made that he felt was best for the team and you got to respect it because he’s the coach. But I think Evan still has a very major place in the NBA.”



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