No longer fighting for the eighth seed, Bucks now fighting themselves

Sanders has been fine on the court, but can't seem to figure it out when he steps off. (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
Sanders has been fine on the court, but can’t seem to figure it out when he steps off. (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)

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.

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.

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.

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?

So many turnovers, so many dunks for the Suns. That was Milwaukee's most significant issue Saturday night. (Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)
So many turnovers, so many dunks for the Suns. That was Milwaukee’s most significant issue Saturday night. (Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

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.

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  1. Good article… interesting thoughts.

    I don’t know if Larry Sanders is necessarily a problem, but I know the continued infighting is definitely a problem. All we (the fans) get to see is what we see on TV and what we read in the paper, and to me, it seems like Larry is an emotional, throwback type of player… The bar fight aside, he seems to be a guy who feels extreme loyalty to this organization, and takes an immense amount of personal pride in the performance of the team…every loss seems to affect him like it’s a personal loss. That isn’t a bad thing, and honestly I wish the Bucks had 10 guys who felt that way. But where it gets troublesome is that Larry expects the same level of commitment, loyalty and pride from his team mates, and that’s just an unrealistic expectation on a journeyman dominated team in a free agency driven NBA. I think he needs to understand that for guys like Neal, Mayo, etc, this is just a stop on the journey, and they consider their employer to be the NBA, not the Milwaukee Bucks… and that this mentality isn’t “wrong”, and it doesn’t mean they won’t give their best while here…it’s just NBA reality. He may not fully understand this reality until someday HE gets traded, something I think he’s going to have a very hard time with emotionally, when the time comes.

  2. Are u serious, we’re gonna use this instance and try to make larry look bad. did you watch that game. if there wasn’t an argument or fight after that game i’d be upset. If someone instigated it and it was larry, than good. Somebody should step up and speak the truth. Gary has been terrible and the worst of the “high character vets”. Bogut use to lay into people if they werent performing on defense. I could only imagine what bogut would sat to him after that game. Good riddance Jeremy, everybody should just shut up about larry and just let him fucking play. I hope you dont start being as negative as Gery Woefel. At least hes showing some emotion about the team. And BTW, if were not playing neal, or ridnour to shop them asap, then i quit. Please drew, give back wolters his backup job.

    • Just noting that this has been a habitual thing with Sanders. If Bogut was laying into guys, he was doing it on the court so they knew where to be or he did it in private. Didn’t spill over. And Amin was there in the locker room and was the one to note this was on Larry, so I’m going by his assessment.

      • I hear ya. My bad for getting mad. I just get frustrated with our vets. especially neal. hes been disasterous and embarrassing. And I get frustrated with minor Larry issues, including bar fight, and people spewing hate based off of what dirty reporters say. Sometimes shit happens, end of story. also I hate amin.

      • Sanders does most of it in private as well, we have very little information regarding his other confrontations or even this one for that matter. The only concrete quote we have is Neal making a scene as he left the locker room yelling for everyone to hear while Sanders only told reporters that he “had a bad game.”

        Amin heard Larry Drew yelling at his team then got noisy and snuck in there before the dust settled as Mayo tried to get rid of the professional gossips because it obviously wasn’t over.

  3. Remember the bar brawl? This goes way beyond issues with teammates after a bad loss. This guy needs anger management

    • Fran McCaffery probably too. And about a dozen other college coaches… anyone who doesn’t pop those happy pills to keep a smile on their face at all times should seek help until we’re all as level-headed as our friend Danny here.

  4. Personally,…I’m feeling some deep concern for both BUCKS as a team,and Larry as a competitive player.
    The lackluster EFFORT given against SUNS was worthy of an issue within the locker room!! As a fan I have mixed emotions about Larry,LOVE THE PASSION he brings to the game-not keen on lost temper though. I’m not sure if a trade of Larry is a smart move,but allowing the team to tear each other apart is poisonous to the young players we are trying to develop!!!!

    One thing seems crystal clear,this team will NOT execute the game plan Coach Drew designs. They just won’t play hard for him. Time for VanExel to be promoted??

  5. It’s quite possible that Larry Sanders might need some good counseling (maybe just mentoring him with a quality former player like Sidney Moncrief); but most of all, I feel sorry for Larry, as well as the other young guys on the Bucks. It seems like such a dysfunctional team, beginning in the front office, and thus a discouraging and exasperating place to be day in and day out.
    I feel sad for Khris Middleton getting pushed into the backround after such a promising start, reminding me of another guy we had last year who never got half a chance. I’m concerned that Brandon Knight is being squeezed into a roll that doesn’t fit his game or at least being thrown into that role too far and too fast. I feel frustrated on behalf of all our young guys trying to develop their games, and trying to grow as a team, without even the semblance of a point guard to direct and distribute.
    Bottom line: Even if we get a top-five pick for the next three drafts, it’s probable that this team will always struggle.
    Here’s the plan: Focus on Larry, John, Giannis, Khris, Brandon, Miroslav. Get another point guard or two! Trade or release or bench most or all of our veterans, only using character guys who care about more than just themselves. (I don’t see why we need to play the veterans to shop them — the other teams know enough about who they are and what they can do.)

    P.S. As the cuckoo guy who is sometimes slighted or more often just ignored, I’ll point out a few credentials: (1)Kendall Marshall, who wasn’t worth even discusssing, is averaging 16 assists for his last two games with the Lakers; (2)Ish Smith — and no, he never did get a fair chance with the Bucks — had as many assists for the Suns as Brandon did for us, in many less minutes; Ish has to work on his shot, but not more than Nate; (3)Scott Suggs is looking great in the D-League; (4)Tobias Harris, my guys from last year, continues to impress with three double-doubles of late.
    Time will tell with all of these guys, but it’s amazing to me how well they are doing right now. I’m willing to allow for a lot of luck with my success stories, scary even to myself, but what bothers me has been the incredible reluctance to even discuss these ideas.

    • I actually thought of you the other night when I saw Marshall had 20/15. He’s playing well. We didn’t really dig into it, but I’d like to think the Bucks brass is at least always considering their options. The reason we didn’t dig into it here is because there’s not really any roster flexibility on the Bucks right now. They don’t have a spot to sign a guy like Marshall, so we don’t really get into who they could be signing out of the D-League. I’m not saying that’s the best way of handling things, but we just try to work within the specter of what’s going on right now.

      I think as the year progresses and we find out if Knight can handle the PG role (looks like a no thus far) then we’ll start to look at things differently over the summer and see who might be worth auditioning for the role over the long term.

      • I appreciate the good answer, Jeremy; and I do respect your opinions, and those of all of the writers at Bucksketball. Please excuse me if I get cranky or carried away. I just wish that you guys would think beyond what the front office wants to do, and consider possibilities of what they could do.
        For example, couldn’t they open up a roster spot by trading for a draft pick, or two players for one, or by waiving a guy, or replacing an injured player like Carlos?
        Also, as we’ve discussed, trying another point guard wouldn’t rule out Brandon at that position. It wouldn’t be such a bad thing if two guys became good point guards for the Bucks. I’m wondering if the frustrations of the team might be due in large part to a lack of good point play, with the result of a lot of one-on-one play, with the result of a lot of selfishness and resentment. I don’t think we can afford to put so much emphasis on Brandon until April; there’s too much at stake for all of the other players. Again, it’s one thing to have a losing season, another to have a lost season.
        Anyway, the front office for the Bucks hasn’t had much in the way of results for the last decade — to put it mildly — so I think it’s fair and worthwhile to at least question their approach and discuss how they could do things differently. I think it goes back to your concern about process, and whether there’s much hope that the Bucks are ever going to get better if the team keeps doing the same old things, like relying on mediocre veterans with apparently me-first attitudes.
        To end on a positive note, I appreciate you guys at Bucksketball sticking up for Khris of late — as he is being, as I see it, miscoached and/or mismanaged.

        • To further Jeremy’s point about roster flexibility: waiving players isn’t a viable solution because to my knowledge, all player contracts are guaranteed this year, meaning they’ll be paid whether they’re on the roster or not. And I doubt the team’s willing to eat anyone’s salary just to bring someone up from the D-League and pay them more money on top of that. It doesn’t seem like a good use of resources. Delfino, in particular, has a deal that’s guaranteed for next year as well, meaning that cutting or trading him (given his health status now) isn’t a viable option.

          Similarly, it seems unlikely that the team would go to the lengths of trading players for no reason other than to free up a roster spot for one of the players you’ve mentioned. It’s an awful lot of work to take a flyer on someone. I’m not entirely sure it’s worthwhile to start inventing trades, given the unpredictability of such moves (see Chicago’s trade of Luol Deng to the Cavs last night, which came out of nowhere). In the end, it just really doesn’t feel worth it to conjure up trade ideas without any basis in reality.

          As far as Brandon Knight goes – if we’re going to give the young guys time to figure things out and develop, why is he be excluded from that group? He’s the same age as Middleton. He has room to grow like the rest of the team. I think it’s also worthwhile to find out what he can become, not reduce his opportunity by cutting into his minutes with yet another flyer of a point guard.

          • Fair enough, Mitch, I appreciate your points of view, and realize I could be wrong about things. However…
            Based on my impressions of the veterans on the Bucks this season — at least for the most part — it might be a good idea to go to great lengths to trade some, or most, or all of them. How many of them are playing hard and smart team basketball? How many of them are helping our young guys? How many of them really want to be with the Bucks any longer than necessary?
            Also, I’m not only concerned with the guys I’ve mentioned; that’s why I asked you, Mitch, to draw up a list of point guards out there who might be of interest to the Bucks — given that you likely know tons more about that kind of thing than I do. I might have even asked you to identify more established point guards, too, including savvy veterans like Andre Miller. It’s not that you’re obligated to do so, but why not have that discussion?
            Why only discuss things along the lines of what the Bucks’ front office wants to do? Instead of thinking of why things can’t be done, why not think of ways things can be done? This is where I get frustrated. I don’t like the Bucks’s brass setting the agenda for discussion, and I don’t like going with the status quo when it has been so dismal for the fans for so long.
            The thing about Brandon is that his development affects the whole team, and his potential at the point is so very shaky. Nate isn’t ready, and he can’t even shoot a little, maybe not even as well as Ish. Luke isn’t particularly a point guard, and he’s getting on in years. Meanwhile, the team stagnates, the growth of players is stunted, and frustration sets in all around, including with the fans who are asked to endure seemingly endless mismanagement. Do you really think bringing in Parker or Wiggins next year is going to make a big difference, especially if we still have around what seem to be shot-happy veterans who disdain defense? (Please tell me if I’m being unfair to our veterans, and who might be a positive to the team.)
            Again, I may be wrong, I may be more or less lucky when I’m right… but am I so far off that these matters don’t even merit vigorous discussion? Sometimes I feel so alone on this site that I wonder if maybe I am cuckoo.

      • I’ve been following Tobias this year fairly closely, and I think he’s been doing rather well, especially coming off an ankle injury. I’d take him back with the Bucks in a heartbeat, but he might be glad to be rid of such a dysfunctional and dismal organization.

        In other news, I noticed that Scott Suggs was awful statistically last night, although even Kyrie Irving had a scoreless game this season with similar shooting numbers.
        Scott did make the list of most intriguing players on the website for the D-League. While his stock is down for at least a game, I’d sign him in a heartbeat, too.

        Here’s the thing about guys like Tobias, and Scott, and Khris Middleton, as I see it: They are willing shooters, but not the kind of guys who are going to force up shot after shot. They are team guys. Now, if the Bucks want hyper-shooters who are mostly about themselves, then keep on keeping on. If we want team guys, who are talented but not strutting, then let’s go with the likes of Tobias, Scott, and Khris.

  6. What disturbs me the most is Larry Drew.

    We don’t see the flailing Lakers going postal on each other. We don’t see the injury ravaged Bulls fighting with the volatile J.Noah on the squad. we don’t hear the Brad Stevens bunch in Boston doing this stuff. Losing teams with injuries, pressure and turned over rosters. Jeff Hornacek is a rookie coach with a cobbled together roster….all he’s done is win 60% of his games in a brutal West. Look at what’s happening in the usually pathetic Charlotte franchise, with a Rookie coach.

    I could go on and on.

    Its on the Head Coach to establish a playing style, set roles, build togetherness, foster team work, manage egos and develop players into the an espoused philosophy.

    I don’t see any of it.

    MANAGE your team, Larry. Earn YOUR paycheck.

  7. I’m actually okay with all of this. I was slightly, albeit just slightly, worried that the return of Larry and others getting healthy would possibly mean a few more W’s. That looks like it clearly won’t be the case as team chemistry issues have derailed any chance of the Bucks not getting a top 5 pick in this upcoming draft. For me, Larry can either figure it out or go away via trade if anyone would take him. And someone would. There are plenty of teams willing to take on a interior defender, thinking that a change of scenery would make a world of difference. Or else the Bucks just keep him. My guess is that a developing Giannis, Knight, Henson and a top 5 pick will get the ball rolling and lead to an improved team. That will help to solve some of these problems for Larry. But you will always have to deal with some of the warts with him. Side note…Its too bad that Ersan is playing so poorly. His trade value at his price tag looks not so good at this point. I’d be happy just seeing his contract come off the books.

  8. I have been a bucks fans since being a kid at the old arena watching the likes of marques, junior, lanier, and harvey catchings. I am passionate about this team being a successful franchise but after 25 years of watching a clueless herb kohl I think this team is beyond saving. Everything this franchise does is almost comical in its ineptitude. There really is no fan base left with the exception of us hard core fans that have had to resort to putting a billboard up on I43 because the local media, for some unknown reason, gives this dying franchise a free pass. Why is that? Is it because Kohl bought the team and supposedly “kept the team in milwaukee”? I don’t want to be hopeless but after all the coaches, GMs, bad signings, bad trades and with the likes of Ron Walter and Jon Steinmiller and the rest of the cronies still calling the shots, who are the fools here? Its us, the last bastion of fans that think this will somehow change.