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Lewenberg: New lease on life, basketball for Raptors' Fields

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Josh Lewenberg
10/2/2013 6:44:48 PM
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TORONTO - It's been almost a full year since Raptors forward Landry Fields underwent surgery to correct a debilitating and somewhat enigmatic injury to his right elbow; an injury that nearly turned him against the game that he loves.

For Fields, the road to recovery has been a long and arduous journey, one that continues to this day as the 25-year-old prepares for his fourth NBA season and second with the Raptors.

This summer was a time of reflection, a time of change in his life, both personally and professionally.

Returning to play in 46 games following ulnar nerve surgery early last season, Fields battled through the aftermath of his injury, a hitch in his shot and the resulting toll it took on his confidence. He had targeted the offseason as a time of reconciliation, a time to reconstruct the shooting mechanics that had been betraying him. It turned out to be more trying than he could have anticipated.

"There was a point where I was so frustrated, my dark days basketball-wise," Fields told TSN.ca in an exclusive conversation Tuesday evening.

"Even in the summer there was a lot of ups and downs," he admitted. "It's just a continual process really. In my mind I thought I [would have] surgery and boom, I'd be back to normal, but clearly [that] isn't the case."

First and foremost, as Fields pointed out, the nerve still needed to heal and strengthen. Trying to avoid that temptation to put the cart ahead of the horse was his biggest challenge, as he juggled on-court work with the natural healing process that had to occur first.

In an attempt to work around the injury and play through it last year, Fields developed some bad habits including what he called a "weird motion" in his shot. He recalled the "down periods" this summer, when he would be in the gym working tirelessly to hone in on his mechanics as he would lose the strength in his shooting elbow.

The injury has forced Fields to reinvent his shot and his game while calling a few unexpected audibles along the way. He even tried to do something that is mostly unheard of at the NBA level, change shooting hands mid-career.

"At that point I was like, it's early in the summertime what if I just start working with my left [hand for] a couple months and see how far I can go," he said of the short-lived experiment. "It didn't really work as I excepted it. I'm right handed, so I got off of that and stayed faithful to the process and what the doctors were saying."

Fields was a 39 per cent three-point shooter as a rookie with the Knicks back in 2010-11, a year in which he attempted 219 triples. Last year he made just two of 14 attempts from long range.

"In my mind I just wasn't playing with a full deck of cards," Fields said of his first season in Toronto. "I want[ed] to shoot it but I understood that my strength and my sensation and the sensory skills in my right hand aren't nearly what they need to be so I can't really feel when I'm going up for a shot."

"It's almost like I'm shooting a ghost ball or something," he joked. "So when that's going on, yeah you're confidence kind of dwindles. You're like, I can't shoot right now, not because I don't want to but I literally can't. It's physical."

Still not 100 per cent, Fields says he can "finally see a light at the end of the tunnel" and is ready to get back to work. Most importantly, he insists the confidence issues that plagued him last year are forever in the past.

"You can tell his confidence is at a much higher level," teammate Aaron Gray said of Fields after the first couple days of camp. "He had to deal with so much last year that I hope no player has to do. Just finding your rhythm and your balance between life and basketball, it's huge."

Finding serenity in his private life, with a marriage and the birth of his first child, has allowed him to find that balance and put basketball in perspective.

Although Steve Novak and Austin Daye will compete with Fields for minutes behind Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan at the wing positions, the presence of accomplished shooters could take the pressure off the Stanford grad.

"I told him, don't even worry about his shot," said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. "He's been working his butt off on his shot, his shot has improved but I'm not even concerned about that because he brings so many other things to the table."

"I think the weight of the world is off his shoulder," he continued. "Hopefully him knowing that we don't need his shooting to give us a chance to win, that takes some [pressure off]."

Instead, Fields will be asked to contribute in other areas of the game, areas he has excelled at in the past, making for what should be a natural transition into his new role. At 6-7 Fields is a skilled defender that Casey has used in man coverage on the likes of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. He can handle the ball, move without it and rebound as well as anyone at his position.

This will be an important season for Fields as he continues to work his way back from an injury that, at least temporarily, changed the way he approached his job.

"I'm just trying to go out there and really try to have fun again," he said with a smile on his face. "I think last year with the injury it took away that fun aspect for me of basketball and you never want to go to work and not have fun."

"I would still work hard but [when] you don't see the kind of results that you're putting the time in to get, it really starts to play with you. So this year I'm not [going] to worry about any of that, just [going to] try to go out there and play for my teammates, play for the city and really have fun with it all."

Landry Fields (Photo: Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images)

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(Photo: Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images)
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