After another bad loss, this time at the hands of the Phoenix Suns to close out a three game road trip that started off so positively with a win over the Los Angeles Lakers, things got worse for the Milwaukee Bucks. First, there was a tweet that Larry Drew was giving his team a well deserved chewing out after they turned the ball over 25 times in a 16 point loss.
I’m outside Bucks locker room and Larry Drew sounded like he was laying into them. Couldn’t make out what was said but it was loud & angry
— Amin Elhassan (@AminESPN) January 5, 2014
From there, apparently Larry Sanders and Gary Neal got into a confrontation. I’m sure this happens all the time in locker rooms, especially in losing locker rooms, but rarely does it continue on while reporters are filing in.
Gary Neal and Larry Sanders in big argument in Bucks locker room after game. Was going on as reporters entered.
— cfgardner (@cf_gardner) January 5, 2014
It seems worth mentioning that, unless he went and visited a friend in an opposing team’s locker room, Sanders has probably never been in a healthy, positive, functioning NBA locker room. He’s the opposite of Neal, who was born into the NBA under the San Antonio Spurs paradise. In Sanders’ first season, the Bucks spiraled out of contention as Andrew Bogut struggled with injuries, Brandon Jennings struggled with a jump shot and acquisitions Drew Gooden, Corey Maggette and John Salmons struggled to be NBA players.
We never heard the stories of positive chemistry or how that group came together as we did with the Kurt Thomas, Jerry Stackhouse mentored Fear the Deer group. Some of those narratives come in after the fact to piece together why a team that wasn’t supposed to be good was good, but the Bucks did move on pretty quickly from the likes of Maggette, Salmons and Chris Douglas-Roberts.
That is where Sanders got his NBA start.
After that, there was another missed playoff appearance and the trade of Bogut, who was scuffling with coach Scott Skiles. Surely this locker room was no party either. Losing teams rarely get praised for having much cohesion.
Sanders notably clashed with Monta Ellis last season in the playoffs and Bucks locker room was apparently so toxic, the team overhauled the entire roster and scoured the Earth searching for positive veteran presences, possibly to help show guys like Sanders what it’s like to be one of those good guy veterans. But now Sanders has allowed his temper to boil over enough that the public has gotten word once again, this time with one of those veterans brought in to help improve team chemistry.
Is Larry Sanders A Problem?
Amin Elhassan tweeted again later on Saturday night about the dust up.
Imma say this about the Bucks and leave t at that: the dude who yall like to write his name in caps is the one yall should be mad at
— Amin Elhassan (@AminESPN) January 5, 2014
My initial reaction was that this is the sort of thing that happens constantly and doesn’t really matter. But that may have been letting Sanders off the hook too easily.
Given the frequency of Sanders issues of late, it’s fair to wonder how serious his issues with controlling his temper are. Between the many, many technical fouls and these spats with teammates that keep going public, he’s letting his emotions get the best of him more often than most players that have passed through Milwaukee. When channeled properly, guys with crazy tempers are fine. Left unchecked and uncontrolled? It seems like it could turn into an even bigger problem.
In a revealing profile written last season by Lee Jenkins, Sanders lengthy past with anger is documented. Every now and then, it sounds like Sanders is taking steps towards conquering some of his demons, but then something happens like the fight with Ellis or the nightclub incident or this latest dustup with Neal.
He’s young and it’s again worth mentioning that he hasn’t played with many vets who could have helped guide him along … but that kind of seemed like what this season was supposed to be about. And he’s still having problems. Not a great sign. He isn’t one of Milwaukee’s biggest problems right now, but this can’t keep happening forever.
Would Winning Make This All Go Away?
For the Bucks, Almost certainly. You know why that Fear the Deer team had such great chemistry? They won a bunch. Winning feeds positivity. You rarely hear about successful teams battling internal strife, just the teams that are so severely underperforming based on expectations.
Sanders has a separate set of issues. We don’t know what kind of work he’s doing to address them, but it’s safe to say he would be less of a locker room problem if there was less to be upset about. So while he needs to work on pulling it together quicker when he starts to lose it, that isn’t the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team’s real problem.
The real problem, is the losses that keep piling up, due to bad fits, bad injury luck and bad basketball. Lazy passes leading to breakaway dunks and layups are a problem that can be solved much quicker than whatever is causing Sanders to explode. He didn’t play well on Saturday night, but he’s hardly the first guy to look at when attempting to figure out who is contributing to losses the most for Milwaukee. Even his sparring partner Neal hasn’t been as big of a minus as guys like OJ Mayo and Ersan Ilyasova.
So while this was supposed to be a season about fighting for a playoff appearance, it seems like it’s now going to be a season about how to avoid fighting each other as the franchise switches gears from “eighth seed or bust” to “a top five pick is a must.” It’s now a season about development, for Giannis Antetokounmpo, for Brandon Knight and, possibly most importantly, for Sanders, on and off the court.