Things are looking up for the Toronto Raptors.
With training camp just around the corner and meaningful games slowly coming into view, it will soon be time for them to begin defending their Atlantic Division crown, to show whether they can surpass their win total from last season, and, most importantly, to show whether they have what it takes to advance further in the playoffs.If the Raptors have one thing going for them, and surely there is more, it is that they enter the 2014-15 campaign with their core group of players from last season in tact.
I imagine the Raptors will use this familiarity to their advantage, even if it is done so unintentionally. The Raptors will also benefit from the crafty additions of Louis Williams and James Johnson, two players who appear capable of providing scoring and defense and of reducing the starting units’ workload by a significant amount.
Throw internal improvement into the mix, particularly by Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross, and it would seem that the pieces are in place to hit the ground running.
One side effect of this growth, however, is that some players inevitably get pushed further down the depth chart, if not completely off it.
Like it or not, this is the territory where Landry Fields now finds himself, although some might argue that he has been there all along.
A strange beginning
Fields arrived in Toronto under strange circumstances that were of no fault of his own. After all, who could blame him for accepting the three-year, $18.75 million offer presented by Bryan Colangelo in July 2012?
Especially when Fields had shown regression in his sophomore season following an impressive rookie campaign, both spent with the New York Knicks.
However, when Colangelo decided to use that salary cap space on a relatively unproven shooting guard, it was believed to just be a part of a greater plan.
According to reports at the time, what Colangelo ultimately wanted was to lure Steve Nash to Toronto as a free agent.
So how did Fields factor into this equation?
As the story goes, the Knicks were also interested in acquiring Nash, but would have had to arrange a sign-and-trade with the Phoenix Suns to make it work because they didn’t have room under the cap to get a deal done straight up. Along those lines, the Suns were said to be interested in acquiring Fields, who was a restricted free agent, as part of any deal in exchange for Nash.
So when Colangelo signed Fields, he was essentially trying to eliminate the Knicks as a possible destination for Nash — a plan that worked to some extent. Of course the Knicks didn’t match the offer for Fields and Nash ended up with the Lakers, leaving the Raptors with nothing more than an expensive backup shooting guard for the next three years.
Some bumps in the road
To say the least, Fields’ tenure with the Raptors has been underwhelming. Some of that can be chalked up to injury woes, but that alone doesn’t explain why he has appeared in just 81 of a possible 164 regular seasons games since joining the team.
For instance, in the 2013-14 season, Fields was inactive for 17 games due to injury, but also missed 35 games for what is referred to as did-not-play-coaches-decision (DNP-CD).
Even when Fields has been healthy enough to play, his basic numbers reveal that he has struggled, particularly in the area of 3-point shooting where he has been virtually non-existent.
To be fair, it hasn’t been all bad for Fields in Toronto. Anecdotally speaking, he is a smart player who finds other ways to be effective when his shot isn’t falling.
More importantly, he seems to rise to the occasion when it matters the most.
Fields was heralded for his defense on Joe Johnson in Game 2 against the Brooklyn Nets, a performance that helped the Raptors even up the best-of-7 series at 1 apiece. As reported by the New York Post, Fields played 18 minutes, held Joe Johnson to just two points over the final six minutes, and came up with a big steal.
Fields may only be called upon for spot duty or in certain situations, but that is the type of contribution that will earn him the respect of his teammates and the coaching staff, not to mention the fans.
The forgone conclusion
Given his struggles in Toronto thus far, it wouldn’t have been all that surprising if the Raptors had chosen to waive Fields this summer — to give Fields a chance at a fresh start and to give the Raptors some roster flexibility.
While that option may seem appealing, it isn’t the right time to take that step or to pull the chute.
This will likely be Fields’ last season with the Raptors, as he will enter free agency next summer, but the time for his departure hasn’t arrived just yet.
For one thing, it might be wise to keep Fields on the roster so that he is available to package in any potential trades as the deadline approaches. Until, then, barring injuries, the Raptors have enough depth that they won’t have to rely on Fields to have a major impact on the court.
There is also the possibility that Fields will return healthy and motivated in what will be a contract year. At the very least, maybe he will be the guy we saw in Game 2 who is ready when called upon.
Above all, though, maybe his value can be found in whatever it is that he contributes to the continuity and chemistry of a team that is heading in the right direction.
If all goes well for the Raptors in 2014-15, then Fields may not have anything to worry about.