Larry Sanders walked around the Thomas and Mack Center with the assuredness of a player who didn’t need to be there. Last July, he reflected on just how far he had come between the summer of 2012 and the summer of 2013. He laughed about how long ago it seemed to have been when he was fouling out of summer league games and uncertainty surrounded his place on the Milwaukee Bucks roster. That was back when he was frustrated and when Milwaukee Bucks fans were frustrated with him. He had come a long way since then.
Now, he’s come a long way since he’s come a long way, though it’s hard to be excited about where that’s left him. Injured. Suspended. Questionable. His roster spot may no longer be uncertain, but many Bucks fans are no longer convinced he’ll be the defensive anchor and franchise centerpiece he was pitched as last September. Once again, Bucks fans are frustrated.
Surely he is too. What must be most frustrating for Sanders is the inability to do the one thing that could go a long way in making these troubles disappear. Everyone forgives the player who plays well.
While he wasn’t as good this season as he was during his breakout last season, the basketball court was the least of his problems. Before the eye injury that prematurely ended his season, he seemed on the verge of a breakout. He had just set a new career high with 25 points and he grabbed 15 rebounds in the same game. He averaged 13.4 points, 10.4 rebounds and two blocks in the five games before the injury. People seemed to be talking about him as a basketball player again, rather than him as a troublemaker.
Another setback has set back the conversation around Larry Sanders though.
The marijuana suspension isn’t a crime, but the foolishness of it draws forth the exasperation of fans in a similar way. They invest a lot of time and energy into the franchise, and the franchise spent a summer demonstrating a commitment to Larry Sanders, who spent a lot of his summer demonstrating his affection for Milwaukee. It seemed like a great match, before fans had the rug pulled out from underneath them a couple times this season, first with his fight and the ensuing injury and now with this suspension.
He’s owned the suspension, admitted his fault and come out in a rare, forthright athlete interview with the Journal-Sentinel as a proponent for the medical uses of marijuana. Maybe that is something he really does feel very passionate about, but it feels pretty hollow hearing him speak about it for the first time after he’s busted for failing his third drug test.
Personally, I don’t particularly have any issues with people using marijuana, but personal beliefs, whether mine, yours or Larry Sanders’s own, are irrelevant here. His workplace had very clear cut rules about what was okay and what wasn’t okay. And not only did he violate those rules, but he violated them three times! For a guy who often talks about learning from mistakes, he didn’t seem to learn at all from the first two failed tests.
Beyond learning from experiences … doesn’t “I get suspended if I fail another drug test, so I shouldn’t do any drugs for a bit” kind of seem like something foresight should have caught?
It’s a bummer that the conversation around Sanders has turned sour again. And this seems worse than the talk of his technical and flagrant fouls. While he picked up technical and flagrant fouls with even more frequency this season than he has ever before in his career, the issues he has with his temper on the court can be understood a bit more. It’s a passionate game and if he’s been dealing with this forever, it’ll probably take a few years for him to learn how to handle his emotions on the court.
But following super basic workplace rules doesn’t seem like something that should be a multiple year process. Most workplaces don’t even have multiple strike rules when it comes to drug tests. It’s pretty absurd to have failed so many tests.
So now we have to wonder if Larry Sanders is going to continue to make mistakes that keep him from playing basketball. And now we’ll spend a summer debating the merits of Larry Sanders, Basketball Player and Larry Sanders, Man and Larry Sanders, Franchise Centerpiece.
I’m sure you can almost feel my eyes roll back into my head, my shoulders drop and the air come out of me as I even begin to think about how frustrating those conversations are going to be. But I know the game. I know how fans are and I know people are disappointed and feel hurt. They’ll point fingers, demand satisfaction, make jokes about his contract and make lots of proclamations.
That’s what happens during downtime and all Larry Sanders has had since last April has been downtime. Every time Sanders had a misstep, he was unable to get back on the court to rectify it with his play. He was hurt during the U.S. team work in Vegas. He was hurt in the exhibition season and he was hurt most of this past season.
The only bigger sin a professional athlete can have than running afoul of the law or getting suspended is doing so while hurt. Either do wrong or struggle. Don’t do both. That seems to be the code the vast majority of cheering fans abide by and Sanders has very much violated the code.
So we’ll spend this off season the same way we spent this on season: Wondering about Larry Sanders and where he’ll go next. Bucks fans will bide their time and attempt to temper their frustration. Everyone will speculate all summer, especially if we see him in Las Vegas or making an appearance in Milwaukee or in a video at the Cousins Center or if we hear about all the work he’s putting in at the IMG Academy.
But we won’t really know what’s next for Sanders until
the start of next season five games after the start of next season.