The Magic have agreed to trade Arron Afflalo to the Nuggets in exchange for Evan Fournier and the No. 56 pick in Thursday's NBA draft, according to multiple reports.
Yahoo Sports and USA Today Sports both report that Afflalo will return to Denver after two seasons in Orlando after spending the better part of the 2013-14 season in trade rumors. The deal will reportedly be consummated after the draft.
Afflalo, 28, was acquired by the Magic from the Nuggets in 2012 as part of the four-team blockbuster trade that sent Dwight Howard to the Lakers. A 6-foot-5 off guard known for his three-point shooting and defensive abilities, the UCLA product struggled a bit in Orlando's rebuilding context in 2012-13 before enjoying a strong 2013-14 season. Afflalo averaged a career-high 18.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists for the Magic while shooting 42.7 percent from deep, earning some buzz as a possible All-Star candidate despite Orlando's poor record. Afflalo is set to make $7.8 million in 2014-15 and he holds a $7.9 player option for the 2015-16 season, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
Fournier, 21, was a first-round pick by the Nuggets in 2012. The 6-foot-6 French guard averaged 8.4 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 76 appearances last season, as his playing time picked up to 19.8 minutes per game under first-year coach Brian Shaw. Like many young guards, he struggled with turnovers when asked to create off the dribble and needs work defensively. Fournier will make $1.5 million next season in the third year of his rookie contract.
The initial reaction here is: "If that's all you could get for Afflalo, why not just keep him?" Orlando is heading for year three of its post-Howard rebuilding effort, and Afflalo was arguably their most reliable player and one of the few veterans in the rotation. Given the Magic's struggles to assemble a team capable of winning, it's safe to assume he would have bailed out next summer as a free agent. That's no excuse for failing to turn him into a quality pick or a prospect with something resembling star potential. Everyone from Oklahoma City to Chicago has been linked in rumors to Afflalo, and it seems hard to believe that Fournier was the best available target in such a deal. This swap would free up roughly $6.4 million in cap space for the Magic, but Orlando was already well under the cap and hasn't been seen as a major player in free agency this summer.
Fournier will join 2013 lottery pick Victor Oladipo in a young backcourt; Orlando also holds the No. 4 pick in Thursday's draft, giving them a shot to draft a point guard like Dante Exum or Marcus Smart. The Magic's thinking might be that adding Fournier now ensures that its guard corps has the chance to grow together. That's fine, but it will likely mean a step back in 2014-15, which is hard to swallow after a 20-win campaign in 2012-13 and a 23-win season last year.
Quick refresh: Denver endured serious injuries to Danilo Gallinari, JaVale McGee, Nate Robinson and J.J. Hickson last season. Reliability becomes a virtue in that context, and Afflalo fits that bill nicely. He might not be the volume scorer that his inflated numbers from last season suggest, but Afflalo is capable of spacing the floor next to Ty Lawson and creating for himself a bit too. His two-way mentality should appeal to Shaw, who has so far been unable to really put his stamp on the Nuggets, and he represents an immediate upgrade when it comes to perimeter defense. If pushing back into the playoffs in 2015 is the primary goal, Afflalo is a steep upgrade over Fournier.
Even though Shaw gave Fournier a greater role in his second season, those minutes did fluctuate. One might argue that Fournier was a better stylistic fit under former coach George Karl, making this trade a textbook case of a new regime dumping the previous regime's prospect for a more proven commodity. Fournier is definitely years away from reaching his peak as a player but the Nuggets have shown no real signs of intentionally pursuing a rebuilding path. From that standpoint, Fournier individually is better off in Orlando than Denver. The Magic should give him the chance to play all the minutes he can handle.
Denver's work won't be done on this deal until Afflalo is re-signed, as simply renting him for next season doesn't do them any good in the big picture. It's worth noting that the Nuggets still possess a lottery pick in Thursday's draft: if they don't move out from No. 11, they should have a number of young guards -- including Nik Stauskas, Zach LaVine and Gary Harris -- to select from to cushion the blow of Fournier's departure.