ESPN's Marc Stein reported early Tuesday afternoon that the Raptors have reached a verbal agreement on an offer sheet with Fields, a restricted free agent of the New York Knicks, for $19 million over three years. Because Fields is limited to a $5 million first-year salary, the deal includes a poison-pill provision in the third year that will see Fields get paid around $8.9-million before becoming a free agent in 2015.
What does this have to do with Steve Nash? Well, the best way that the Knicks were going to be able to offer Nash anything close to a competitive salary was to package Fields (via a sign-and-trade) along with other assets and send them to Phoenix in a sign-and-trade deal for Nash. Without Fields, it would be extremely difficult (though not impossible) for the Knicks to assemble the necessary salaries to pique the interest of the Suns, who would have to agree to participate with New York on a deal. Without a sign-and-trade, the Knicks are stuck at offering Nash only $3 million per year, or roughly one-quarter of what the Raptors are prepared to pay to get a deal done.
Also, if the Knicks took the unlikely route and matched this offer, they could not trade Fields for three months, so there is no way to include him in a sign-and-trade with Phoenix after he signs Toronto's offer sheet.
New York is believed to be Toronto's primary competition for Nash, though that could change depending on where Brooklyn free agent Deron Williams decides to sign, as the team that loses out on him between Brooklyn and Dallas may feel motivated to throw a serious offer at Nash. However, if the race is really between Toronto and New York, Colangelo's pre-emptive strike against New York's sign-and-trade options illustrates the seriousness with which he covets Nash as a future Raptor.
Of course, Fields is more than just a pawn in the Nash chase; he's a player that the Raptors are going to integrate into their attack next season. Taking money out of the equation for a moment, Fields is an intriguing fit in Toronto. At 6-foot-7 he's likely viewed as the opening night starter at small forward, and his strong rebounding percentage would help offset one of Andrea Bargnani's biggest weaknesses (he outranks James Johnson, Linas Kleiza and Andrea Bargnani in that category). He's a solid defender, who runs the floor well and is someone that the organization was high on regardless of the Nash pursuit.
Of course, there are downsides, and they are not to be discounted. Fields saw his game hit a wall last season, as his stats basically fell across the board. While he tends to play (a lot) better when Carmelo Anthony isn't around and the offence is moving, you don't tend to line up for players trending in the wrong direction. The hope in Toronto is that, freed from the iso-heavy offence that Carmelo demands in New York, Fields will return to the impressive emerging player that the Knicks made untouchable in their pursuit of Anthony last winter.
Even if he does return to his pre-Melo form, however, there is still that salary to contend with. The oddities of the collective bargaining agreement dictate that while Fields' deal breaks down to approximately $5 million, $5 million and $9 million in actual payments over the three years, his cap hit each year will actually be the average of those figures, or roughly $6.3 million per season. That would make Fields the third most expensive Raptor behind Bargnani and Jose Calderon, and it would put him in the price class just above Wilson Chandler and Jason Richardson. Even if Fields slides into the Raptors roster and produces up to the expectations of the organization, he's going to be overpaid to do so.
Now, if this is the move that seals the deal and gets Nash to Toronto, the team's brass probably won't care too much about the Landry contract. He can play, he fits into the system and the advanced stats on him don't kill him like his basic stats do. It's not a great deal, not by a long shot, but it's all part of a bigger plan to deliver Steve Nash to the Raptors. That's how single-focused Colangelo is right now. He knows he's opened a Pandora's Box by so publicly chasing Nash and this deal is a sign of how well he knows it. Landry Fields is a fine player if he can regain his 2010 form, but if Colangelo misses out on Nash, this contract is going to be a daily reminder of how badly he missed.