SAITAMA, Japan — As if the Celtics faithful aren’t frustrated enough about the team’s lack of activity in free agency, newest New York Knicks signee Evan Fournier said Tuesday that his first intention had been to re-sign with Boston.
Fournier, who was acquired by the Celtics from Orlando with the Gordon Hayward trade exception, agreed to a four-year, $78 million deal with the Knicks hours before his French team beat Italy in the Olympic men’s quarterfinals.
Never before have NBA free agency and the Olympic tournament coincided, and Fournier was one of the premium free agents available. He checked his phone Tuesday morning, talked with Knicks officials, and the deal was done. But he had nothing but positive things to say about Boston, and said he wanted to remain a Celtic.
“That was my priority going into the summer,” he said. “Because I knew the place. I talked to Brad [Stevens] and we couldn’t get a deal done, obviously. But I had my options. It wasn’t necessarily Boston only, but I was more inclined to sign there because they traded for me and I felt good while I was there.
“That’s the thing with free agency. It can go both ways.
“New York has been on my radar for a while now. And I’m honestly extremely happy I’ll be there next year.”
The Celtics could have exceeded the salary cap to sign Fournier, a smooth shooter whose stint in Boston was marred by COVID-19, because they owned his Bird Rights. But he wanted a deal closer to $80 million and four years, and the Celtics did not want to make that financial commitment because Stevens is trying to carve out a maximum-salary slot to make a run at a major free agent next summer.
Stevens made a deal last week for Dallas swingman Josh Richardson, apparently in acknowledgment that Fournier could be headed elsewhere. The Knicks, looking to build off last season’s playoff appearance, jumped on the chance to bring in a quality shooter.
Fournier said he is ready for the high-profile Knicks and the pressure of New York after years in laidback Orlando.
“The No. 1 thing was [coach Tom] Thibodeau; I love a coach like Thibs,” Fournier said. “Playing for coaches like [Steve Clifford] for a few years, I feel like I’m going to be very comfortable with him and his style of play.
“I enjoy the pressure. I enjoy the spotlight. They had a really good season. They had a spot open and I thought I could really help them. And yeah, it’s freakin’ New York. It’s fun. You want to be part of something big, have pressure. You want to be a guy that competes every night.
“I felt like New York was a great opportunity for me to live those big moments.”
What could be even more frustrating to Celtics fans is that he signed with a division rival that perhaps has passed Boston in the Eastern Conference pecking order.
“I’m a very loyal guy,” said Fournier, “so when it was Orlando, I gave everything I had. But like I said, you want to be a guy that plays in those big games. You want to have pressure. You want to wake up in the morning and have that pressure. You don’t want to be chilling at home, and that’s the one thing for me — competing.”
Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.