The signing of Landry Fields by the Raptors former President Bryan Colangelo is one the last reminders of the risks Toronto used to be willing to take that didn’t pan out, however, it could have turned out worse, a lot worse if one enjoyed last season’s playoffs and this coming season’s optimism. Colangelo only signed Fields to that three-year $18.8 million offer sheet in July 2012 in an attempt to take the Knicks out of the running for then free agent Steve Nash and if the Lakers hadn’t stepped in with a three-year $27.9 million offer for Nash, the Raptors could have picked up two barely usable players on big contracts and this would have been yet another rebuilding year.
While Colangelo overpaid to sign Fields, nothing that has happened since then has been Fields’ fault or even predictable in advance. The compressed nerve in Fields’ elbow was an unexpected and difficult to diagnose problem during his first season in Toronto and the similar problem in his wrist last year was equally unexpected. Fields could have mentally checked out and packed it in, he is after all financially secure and those injuries have taken their toll, but he didn’t.
It was a discouraged but hopeful Fields that arrived at training camp a year ago. He had almost given up hope of regaining the strength and control in his right hand that made him an effective three-point shooter as a rookie.
“Last year was a very humbling year for me,” Fields told Pro Bball Report. “There are still a few things that I’m working through, but nothing as major as a twitch anymore so it’s just trying to get back strength and control. Sometimes it feels great and sometimes it feels off, so now it is just getting that consistency.
“I thought about even switching to my left hand and shooting left-handed. I did about a week-and-a-half of that (last) summer just to see if I could be somewhat decent by the time the season rolled around, but – stick with my right. Some days it was worse than before the surgery and that was really playing with (my mind) a lot, but talking with the doctors, that was just part of the process.”
Fields’ right hand never was okay last season and even the wrist surgery to relieve the pressure on the same nerve that was causing his problems the year before didn’t help. However, Fields didn’t give up. He still looked for other ways to contribute when Head Coach Dwane Casey called on him.
“When my shot isn’t going right, there is something else I can go to. I am not so one dimensional that, if that is out, then I am out,” Fields said.
Even with a suspect right hand, Fields could still play defense and he has the smarts and the size to guard positions two through four. He did fall to third string in the Raptors rotation behind John Salmons, but there were times Casey needed him and Fields had the professionalism to stay ready.
“You never know who is going to get into foul trouble and you never know who will go down with injury, so you always have to be ready even if you think you are going to play or you’re not,” Fields said. “You never know what is going to happen out there. You don’t want to be caught off guard.
“Whether you like it or not, you have to maintain your professionalism because whether you are playing or not, the guys upstairs are still paying you and still expecting stuff out of you. You still have something to contribute to the team.”
In Game 2 of the playoffs against the Nets, Casey turned to Fields to give him some size on Joe Johnson after John Salmons went out with a sore back and Fields responded with 4 rebounds, 2 steals, a block and 17.7 minutes in the Game 3 win. Then in just 7.8 minutes Fields gave Toronto 3 rebounds and 2 steals in the Game 4 loss. He came to play when called upon, however, as has been Fields history in Toronto, back spasms took him out of Game 3 early. Fields has never been able to catch a break health-wise with Toronto.
Last season Fields had a chance to be a regular rotation player if his right arm was working, however, he’ll come into camp this time as a third string player from day one. Even the rookie Bruno Caboclo will be a step ahead of him on the depth chart and Caboclo isn’t expected to play much at this point. Fields remains on the Raptors roster for four reasons.
1. A $6.3 million cap hit and estimated $8 million actual salary far exceeds his current value and giving away an asset to entice a team to take Fields’ contract off the Raptors books doesn’t make a lot of sense. Taking back a worse contract to get rid of Fields makes even less sense.
2. Waiving Fields would open up a roster spot, however, the Raptors don’t really need another third string wing or prospect as their rotation is already deep enough baring multiple injuries. Also the very wealthy Raptors corporate owners don’t need the NBA’s stretch provision to spread out payments over more years and the team is below the luxury tax threshold.
3. Fields has been a good soldier who has stayed ready even when he was not expecting to play. A solid example of professionalism for the young players the Raptors are trying to develop the right way. Fields is a good guy.
4. The faint hope that his right arm will finally be okay and he gets his shot back. (not sure if that even matters anymore)
If current President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri could find a deal that would improve his team by taking some kind of action with Fields, it would happen, but there just isn’t likely to be anything better out there than keeping Fields, his professionalism and his expiring contract around.