Chisholm: Raptors take a gamble by bringing aboard Fields

Tim Chisholm
7/15/2012 12:31:46 AM
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I don't know if I've ever been as torn on a transaction in Bryan Colangelo's time as general manager of the Toronto Raptors as I am over his signing of restricted free agent Landry Fields, whom he officially secured after New York declined to match Toronto's offer sheet Saturday night.

In one sense he's a perfect fit for this Toronto roster. He moves extremely well without the ball, which will help diversify Toronto's predictable offense. He's a standout rebounder and passer, which as a starter helps offset the fact that Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan are terrible in both areas. He plays with the kind of dogged determination that the Raptors are eager to have define their team. He's a solid glue guy, the likes of which Toronto hasn't had since Jorge Garbajosa. And at only 24, he's still got years to grow and improve.

But then there's that contract, the black cloud over what should be seen as a great offseason pickup.

There is no way to ignore the fact that Landry Fields is being wildly overpaid. At three years and an estimated $18.5-million, Fields is probably earning double what he should be making based off of his first two years in the NBA.

Yes, there were mitigating circumstances dictating his price tag. The Raptors initially offered it thinking that they were kneecapping New York's sign-and-trade bid to bring Steve Nash to the Knicks, which turned out to be a useless gesture since Nash ended up with the Los Angeles Lakers. The Raptors also truly wanted him on the team, and so they needed an offer large enough to keep New York from matching it, which was their right since Fields was their restricted free agent. Considering the fact that some believed right up until the eleventh hour that New York might match, it gives some credence to the notion that Toronto had to pay what it did to shake him loose.

All that said, though, it doesn't change the fact that Fields is wildly overpaid and will have that contract hanging over his head for the next three years that he plays for the Raptors.

To complicate matters further, Toronto is gambling that Fields' notable drop-off in production last season was an aberration, not a sign of things to come for the former second-round pick. Fields had a stellar rookie year, averaging 9.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, shooting nearly 50 per cent from the field and 40 per cent from three and making the All-Rookie first team ahead of Indiana's Paul George. In year two, however, his production dropped to 8.8 point, 4.2 rebounds, 46 per cent shooting overall and 26 per cent shooting from three. While a change in roster makeup after Carmelo Anthony arrived has been an oft-cited explanation for the downturn in Fields' production, Toronto is making a big gamble on that supposition being true (Fields' uptick in production when Carmelo was injured helps support the theory). If Fields can return to his rookie season production that helps take some of the sting out of his exorbitant price tag, but he'd need to improve even on top of those numbers to get people looking at him like a player and not as a figure on Toronto's balance sheet.

Here is something worth considering, though, since it may help tangentially explain why Toronto would make such a lucrative bid for Fields in the first place: Fields' rookie year numbers were, across the board, better than those of Garbajosa's in his first year with the Raptors. Colangelo has stated (again and again) how devastating a blow the loss of Garbajosa was after he was injured at the end of the 2006-07 season. The two are actually rather similar players, especially in terms of basketball I.Q. and in their abilities to affect the game without having plays called for them. Like I said before, both are glue guys, the type of players that make all of the little plays that allow the whole to operate more effectively. Colangelo knew how important those qualities were when Garbajosa was in Toronto, and that is reflected in his all-out bid to bring Fields in to play the same role this summer.

Now, does that ultimately justify Fields' salary? No. It's a disproportionate deal that doesn't accurately reflect what Toronto can reasonably expect, production-wise, from Fields based off of his first two NBA seasons.  However, Toronto's books are clean enough that it isn't a prohibitive deal from a flexibility standpoint. With Kyle Lowry drawing a laughably small salary, combined with the rookie scale deals possessed by Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross, Ed Davis and DeRozan (in his case for only one more year), for now Fields is more negative in principle than in a practical sense. Also, with Jose Calderon's $10.6-million deal expiring at the end of the year and the team still in possession of the right to amnesty Amir Johnson or Linas Kleiza, financial flexibility is not a concern in Toronto's front offices.

Still, Colangelo has made Fields a marked man from day one in Toronto by gifting him with that salary. He's putting him in a nearly impossible situation with fans, who are going to be inclined to detest him through no fault of his own. He fits, though, at least on paper. He was a smart pickup at a really dumb price. That's what leaves me so torn on this deal. Do you slam a guy for overpaying the right asset, or do you praise him for identifying the right asset and stopping at nothing to get him? It would be an easier question to answer if Fields was a bigger name, but as a role player he may never be able to align his salary with the expectations that it creates.

It's not the worst deal that Colangelo has made in Toronto (paging Jason Kapono), but it's far from the best. Good luck to Fields playing in the shadow of that contract. He'd have been stupid not to take it, but the fans won't be satisfied until he's earned it.

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