12:12 pm Jul. 12, 20123
It is an oddity of the byzantine rules governing the N.B.A.'s collective bargaining agreement that the New York Knicks might be better served by paying more money for Landry Fields, a badly flawed shooting guard, than by paying less money for a better player.
So while it is astonishing that the Toronto Raptors offered Landry Fields $20 million over three years, it might actually make sense for the Knicks to pay their restricted free agent that much money, too.
Let's start at the beginning of the Fields free-agent journey, way back on July 1. Fields was a surprise contributor to the Knicks in 2010-11 after getting drafted in the second round out of Stanford, and has started all but five Knicks games over his two years with the team.
But Fields faltered badly in his second season, with his three-point accuracy dropping from 39 percent, which is solid, to less than 26 percent, which is just awful, particularly for a shooting guard. Fields tinkered with his shot, producing more of a line-drive, and the results were ugly.
The idea that the Knicks would bring Fields back was an uncertain one, heading into July.
Then came the pursuit of Steve Nash from the Knicks. The idea was, the Knicks would build a sign-and-trade around Fields, helping Nash to receive the higher salary available in a matching salary swap.
So in an effort to checkmate the Knicks, the Raptors went and offered Fields a massive contract, much more than a below-average player over two seasons was worth. The idea was that Fields would have to agree, and the Knicks wouldn't be able to deal Fields for Nash.
As it turned out, the Lakers landed Nash, leaving the Raptors stuck with their inflated offer to Fields.
But the calculations are different for New York than they are for Toronto. By signing Fields, Toronto will give up precious cap space in the process, since he wasn't a Raptor player prior to this. But for the Knicks, who own Fields' early Bird rights, they can add him without suffering the cap space consequences.
The Knicks do need another shooting guard. The re-signed J.R. Smith is best served as a backup, so he can be utilized, or benched, depending on which Smith shows up that day. Iman Shumpert is scheduled to return from knee surgery, but not until January, and once he does, he'll be eased in slowly, in all likelihood.
So a player like Fields, particularly if he can find his shooting touch again, is a useful addition--tall, smart, a good rebounder, capable of penetrating and guarding the larger shooting guards. He really shouldn't be a starter, but someone needs to start at shooting guard for the Knicks.
And not only are the free agent alternatives out there uninspiring--Jodie Meeks, the recently-injured Raja Bell, etc.--but the Knicks can only offer them the veterans' minimum salary, around $1.4 million, or arrange a sign-and-trade with their last remaining contract for such purposes, Dan Gadzuric, which would up an offer to around $2.1 million. Exactly how enticing that can be is hard to say.
And the Knicks aren't getting much more flexibility than that anytime soon. The nature of their moves--from Jason Kidd to Marcus Camby, matching Jeremy Lin to retaining J.R. Smith and Steve Novak--has been to freeze the supporting cast in amber just as surely as the signing of Tyson Chandler last year finalized the Chandler/Amar'e Stoudemire/Carmelo Anthony core. These are your New York Knicks, for better or worse, for the next several years. And adding a player of significance beyond this group likely requires salary cap flexibility they no longer have.
In that context, the Knicks need to decide whether paying Landry Fields an exorbitant amount of money to see if he can regain his rookie season shooting touch is worth it. Considering they've done everything else to max out what they get from the Chandler/Stoudemire/Anthony core, it only makes sense to pay Landry Fields $20 million over the next three years.
In a wildly unpredictable N.B.A. offseason, that might be the most shocking turn yet.