Landry Fields: Familiar Problems, Fresh Perspective

Title: Landry Fields: Familiar Problems, Fresh Perspective
Date: October 1, 2014
Original Source: Raptors Republic
Synopsis: This article dove into Landry Fields’ situation ahead of the 2014-15 season, with Fields speaking candidly of his new role and new perspective.

As the book opens on another Toronto Raptors season, the talk is about taking steps forward from an encouraging, breakthrough 2013-14 season. For Landry Fields, though, the offseason was all about taking a step back after the most disappointing year of his career.

It’s been a trying two seasons for Fields since arriving in Toronto on a three-year, $18.75 million contract. It seemed an overpay initially and has felt like an albatross at times since. He played just 322 minutes last season and another 26 in the playoffs, relegated to the bench due to injury and ineffectiveness. The promising young rotation piece of two offseasons ago has become an afterthought against developing players, intriguing rookies, and a pair of veterans brought in to fill reserve wing roles once thought to be his.

You’d forgive Fields for entering camp with a chip on his shoulder, but his attitude at media day on Monday suggested otherwise. Fields was reflective, upbeat, and optimistic about the coming season.

“It’s amazing,” Fields said. “We’re doing the best job in the world. It’s always great to be back.”

Unfortunately, the Stanford product returns to Toronto without a clean bill of health and facing similar questions to those of last fall following a disappointing Raptors debut.

Just five games into his tenure with the team, Fields required surgery to address an issue with the ulnar nerve in his right elbow. The nerve issue caused his right hand to clasp involuntarily when he attempted a shot, and the offending nerve was transposed to correct the matter. Again last January, Fields had surgery on his right arm to try to fix it.

“I was kind of up and down with everything,” Fields said. “Playing, not playing, and the whole rehab process. It takes much more out of the game that I had before than a lot of people really understand. It’s difficult to transition into kind of a new player, really. Just trying to find my mode with that, mentally, it was very frustrating. It still is at times. But if I let that encompass my world, it kind of takes over everything outside of basketball.

“And this year I refuse to let that happen.”

Fields saw his 3-point and free-throw shooting drop off dramatically in his sophomore season with the New York Knicks, and the Raptors had bet heavily he would bounce back to his 2010-11 rookie levels. If the nerve issue was fixed, there was a good chance Fields could be the player the team had been expecting.

That didn’t happen after either procedure. The nerve issue remains a complication.

“In terms of shot and the arm, it’s still an ongoing thing,” Fields said, acknowledging it’s still not 100 percent. “It’s just trying to play the best I can with it and coming to terms with it, trying to be the best I can with it. That’s just finding areas where I can be most successful. I think getting away from that (the 3-point shot) is something that will help me. At the end of the day, I’m still working on it, still trying to bring it back to 100 percent and I’ll be doing that until I’m done playing basketball.”

Trying to be the best player he can be without an effective jumpshot is easier said than done. Over two seasons with the Raptors, Fields has shot just 44.5 percent overall and 10.5 percent from long range. Last season, he all but eliminated the 3-point shot from his game, going 0-for-5 on the year. Without that tool in his arsenal, it’s been difficult for him to hold down a consistent role. He plays off the ball well and provides solid defense at multiple positions, but spacing becomes a major issue when defenders can cheat off the 3-point line against your wings.

“We have some ideas on it,” head coach Dwane Casey said after the team’s first practice on Tuesday. “One that we told him about is he can let his cutting be his penetration. He’s one of the best cutters in the league. I told him don’t even worry about the 3-point shot, don’t even think about that.”

The Raptors hope to deploy Fields on the baseline in the “dunker” role more this season, but such a strategy requires careful rotations. Casey mentioned “inverting the floor” when Fields plays, meaning pairing him with someone like Patrick Patterson, who can help maintain the team’s spacing and let Fields play inside the 3-point line. That’s not something the Raptors got to experiment with much last season, as Fields played just 13 minutes with Patterson (and 62 with the similarly rangy Steve Novak).

With James Johnson acquired to essentially fill the role once thought to be his – a versatile defender off the bench – Fields doesn’t have a lot of time to get comfortable with his limitations. Casey indicated that Landry’s familiarity with the system is a plus, but that Johnson’s size is something the team really needs.

What that likely means is that Fields is no longer being looked at as a key contributor, something he’s taking in stride.

“With me, and anybody, it’s probably just a pride thing and understanding if you are a utility player, be the best utility player you can be,” Fields said. “Everybody wants to be the main guy, but with this team I don’t see that as my role. If I come to terms with that, I can be the best at that and be the best complementary player for everybody.”

That’s not necessarily an easy attitude to have at any time, let alone in the final season of a contract. Fields will hit unrestricted free agency next summer having just turned 27, and there’s a very real possibility his resume will have consecutive seasons thin on playing time. His defensive reputation should remain intact, but without the requisite floor time to show the changes he’s made to his game, the market may be unfriendly.

It’s a tough reality, but it’s one Fields has little control over. With a new wife and a one-year old son to focus on – he cops to the fact that “my wife will kill me” if he takes his basketball frustrations home with him – a broader perspective on life appears both a blessing and a necessity.

“The secret is actually to be willing to lose everything, and that way you can focus on the here and now,” Fields said. “Tomorrow, I can’t control. But I do understand the contract might not be the same, I might not be in basketball after this year, you never know what’s gonna happen. So really, the more you can almost be okay with that, and I know it sounds brutal to say, but in my own mind, my own psyche, it helps. The fact that now I’m free to really enjoy the season.

“At the end of the day, basketball is just something I do. It doesn’t define me. As long as I’m keeping it like that, it’s not so devastating.”

That’s not to say Fields is resigned to a year at the end of the bench and an uncertain summer. Injuries happen, he could find his stride as an off-ball assassin, and, as he put it, “defense is defense.” Training camp brings with it the opportunity for new beginnings, and it sounds as if Fields has found his.

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