Larry Sanders led the NBA in block percentage in the 2012-13 season with the Bucks, swatting away 7.6 percent of opponent two-point field goal attempts while he was on the court. He also pulled in over a quarter of all the defensive rebounds. The future looked very bright for the then 24-year-old center. So how did he end up in the summer of 2016 rumor mill as a potential backup center?
Sanders was waived by Milwaukee on February 21, 2015 after deciding to walk away from basketball and a big chunk of his recently signed $44 million contract, however, he didn’t leave empty handed. The Bucks used the stretch provision and will be paying Sanders $2.2 million per year thru 2021-22.
After his big season in 2012-13, things started going wrong. Sanders only played in 23 games the next year as an eye injury that required orbital bone surgery ended his season and the thumb he injured in a bar fight also had to be surgically repaired. Plus, a five game suspension for his third time violating the league’s marijuana policy put him at odds with the organization as detailed by Rotoworld.
He got into 27 games in 2014-15 before a string of missed games due to “illness” preceded his departure. Sanders recently talked about his decision in an extensive interview with Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders.
I got to the point where I realized that the NBA is a machine. It’s going to keep running, with or without you. If it can keep running without Allen Iverson – Allen Iverson! – then it’s definitely not worried about me. I knew that, and I also knew they really didn’t have the time to get to know me, to understand me and who I am. And look, I totally understand that. I get that. But I just felt like I had to put myself in a better position in life, to feel more fulfilled. At the end of the day, I’m left with myself, my loved ones and the life I made. I wanted to be someone who was proud of their story. It was always about staying true to myself. I didn’t want to lose myself and who I was for anything. No amount of money. Nothing.”
Sanders will be 28-years-old in November and the reason he still gets talked about is the 6’11 center with the 7’6 wingspan could have been/ was about to become? the Eastern Conference equivalent of DeAndre Jordan, a double-double shot blocking machine. If only he could get back on track. At the same age in the same 2012-13 season, Sanders looked like a better player than Jordan.
He told Kennedy that he’s ready to come back to the NBA.
I feel like I’m in a much better place right now and I’m equipped to be able to put myself in that situation again.
Stepping out of the NBA schedule and doing that was good for me, I’m very happy now.
I could see myself coming back to the NBA
Crank up the rumor mill, most of the teams in the NBA could use a defensive center that can protect the rim and rebound, however, Jordan doesn’t appear to be willing to just tryout for an NBA team to prove he’s ready to come back. He wants some kind of guaranteed deal with a spot in the rotation.
Nothing new, but Larry is not doing a camp-only deal, it has to be right situation with real opportunity. https://t.co/E12AOSuVxy
— Steve Kyler (@stevekylerNBA) August 28, 2016
There’s the rub. Sanders’ name has been associated with several teams this summer and apparently passed over. Nearly two years away from the game will do that. Organizations have a right to be cautious. Sanders didn’t exit the NBA under the best of circumstances and there is no real way to know if he’s physically ready to play an NBA season until you can get him in a gym for a few weeks and preferably see him play at least a handful of preseason games. He isn’t an undrafted 20 something rookie a team can invest in developing. Sanders is either an NBA player or he isn’t.
There are still some obvious situations where Sanders could prove himself. In Toronto, the Raptors lost defensive center Bismack Biyombo to free agency and Sanders could actually be an upgrade. The only issue is, Toronto, like most NBA teams, already has potential solutions on the roster to cover off the loss. Sanders would have to prove himself a better option than Jared Sullinger and Lucas Nogueira, plus rookies Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam. The 2012-13 version of Sanders wins the minutes at backup center, the 2013-14 or 2014-15 version likely gets the thanks, but no thanks.
At this late date, things aren’t likely to be any easier anywhere else. If Sanders wants back in the NBA, he’s going to be competing for more than a spot in a rotation, he’ll have to fight for a spot on a roster. Opportunities exist and some kind of partial guarantee could be out there, but after how things went in Milwaukee, asking for a guaranteed contract and a promise of playing time may not be the best way to get an NBA GM to believe he’s ready to come back.