Larry Sanders does/doesn’t want to continue to play basketball, will/won’t return to the team soon

Equal parts disappointing, confusing, sad, frustrating, insignificant, unsurprising, surprising and just a bummer. That’s the most recent Larry Sanders story.

He’s on leave for personal reasons, we know that. It seems like he probably had the flu before that, we can be pretty sure about that. That’s the extent of what we can be sure about.

So we have different reporters with different sources telling them different things. It sounds like Kyler’s source may be Sanders himself – at the very least it’s his agent – who Kyler later quoted as saying the rumor was “unsubstantiated”. But even if Sanders himself was denying having said anything like what Woelfel reported, I don’t know how much I’d believe it. It’s easy to make denials to the media when something you say off the record, perhaps while frustrated, suddenly becomes public.

Everything is believable here, because Sanders has been so erratic over the past year and a half. He tries to paint the picture of himself as a man with the soul of a poet, a gentle giant, but he’s out there on the court displaying anger issues or fighting with his teammates in the locker room and then getting cited off the court for animal cruelty. There’s a real disconnect between the words Sanders chooses to use to define himself and the actions that follow.

It’s possible a cause of that disconnect is that Sanders is miserable. If he really doesn’t like his job that doesn’t make him that much different than a lot people. His job is a very public job, one that many people strive for, but could never achieve for so many reasons, but it’s still a job and there are drawbacks to every job.

As long as Sanders is an NBA player, he has certain responsibilities the rest of us don’t have. He has to answer to the public via the media almost every day. The amount of accountability required to be a professional athlete is significant. He has to be accountable not only to himself, but to his teammates, coaches, organization and, in certain ways, fans. Maybe that’s not for him. Maybe he turns into a person he doesn’t like when he plays basketball and he doesn’t want to have to answer questions about that every night.

We’ve all seen how much even the most successful and dedicated athletes hate it when they have to answer questions after every game about mundane details of their work day. Imagine if the sport wasn’t a guy’s first priority and then he had to go through all that after each game. Plus, the deal Sanders signed makes him even more prominent and requires even more out of him.

He didn’t have to sign it of course. But it’s probably pretty hard to say no to $44 million and the opportunity to put on all your friends and family. Maybe he thought the job would get easier or he’d be able to handle it or that he’d conquered the things that apparently trouble him. It’s starting to seem like he didn’t. This is all speculation of course. The only person who has a clue as to what’s really going on with Larry Sanders is Larry Sanders and I’m not even sure he has a total handle on it every day. Such is the fragility of mental health.

If he’s taking time off to get himself right or because he has a different personal problem or he really just doesn’t know if he loves the game enough, is he letting the team down? Maybe. But the Bucks have certainly moved on just fine without him so far and they’ll probably continue to be just fine without Larry Sanders. If he decides he’s seen enough of the NBA or enough of Milwaukee specifically, certainly he’ll have to pay some penalties for that. If the Bucks ask him to return to the team and he says no, he could face a suspension. If the Bucks tell him just to stay away, he’ll continue to receive his paychecks as both parties contemplate their next move.

Jason Kidd already said Sanders won’t be Milwaukee’s starting center whenever he does return, so he’s lost his starting spot if nothing else. In general, Kidd doesn’t seem to have taken the most supportive public stance on Sanders, being fairly short with the media aside from saying he’s out and he won’t be starting when he’s back. In sports, losing the trust of your teammates and coaches seems an especially great sin. At this point it seems fair to wonder how welcome back Sanders will be.

So what’s his future in Milwaukee? Murky at best.

He’s still got three years left on his contract, but there are questions about how much either side wants that relationship to continue. He is incredibly unlikely to just walk away from the tens of millions of dollars he’s owed and the Bucks aren’t going to be able to trade him very easily. Sanders had been fine this year, but not the player Milwaukee thought he’d be when they signed him to his current contract. He was averaging 7.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game before he went out. His defense was still pretty good, but his offense was hurting the team.

So he’s a moderately productive player who is starting to prove generally unreliable. It’d be hard to believe another team would be willing to take a risk on him at this point. At the very least, I’d expect him to remain under the control of the Bucks for the rest of this season. At most, he’ll be back on the court fairly soon, in a yet to be defined role.

The Larry Sanders Show Saga is probably going to continue on in Milwaukee for a while, but it’s hardly going to be the source of entertainment it once was.

Categories: Sad and Unpopular

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5 Comments

  1. Well said. One only hopes this isn’t another Ricky Williams-esque saga. I’ve heard so much good and bad about Gery Woelfel that I don’t know what to believe about his reporting. A lot of people say he has it out for Sanders, which doesn’t mean his report is any less accurate, but does cast a shadow over it. Winning cures all, and playing well within that winning is even better. When he had that good season we didn’t hear much bad about him until the playoffs when they got annihilated, then all of a sudden there was turmoil in the locker room(at least that we heard of). He’ll probably be back on the court by the end of the week, getting backup minutes, dodging questions left and right and hopefully (maybe) he’ll work his way back up the rotation with some stout defense. Maybe coming off the bench will be better, he originally didn’t want to start anyways back in the day. Now it’s just the matter of over paying the guy…

  2. not a personal vendetta against Larry, but if he does quit on the team, I say the Bucks go after him for every penny of that new contract. Talk about citing personal conduct and actions detrimental. I feel like he would be setting a bad precedent and could become a possible trend.

  3. I think Jeremy is being overly kind. How could Sanders have turned out to be a worse investment than he already is? His multiple, multiple incidents are well documented. But more worrying is he’s basically played 2 to 2 and 1/2 good months of basketball in nearly 4 and a half years. Is it his fault the Bucks offered him 4 years 44 mill for that limited production? Of course not. I’m suggesting the Bucks decision to invest in Sanders is the real problem.

    Even Larry himself has admitted in interviews he’s always struggled with anger and emotional issues largely because of his upbringing. He is what he is – an unstable wildcard and there is no reason to expect that to change. The Bucks should have known it and acted accordingly.

  4. It’s sad that the news was believable given Sanders murky past. I had no trouble buying into it, apart from who was reporting it.

    Speaking of which, Woelfel is a complete joke, and was the only reason I had some doubts about the report given his personal feelings about Sanders.

  5. I heard Woelfel yesterday on 95.3 The Score here in Appleton. After he trashed Sanders, and the Bucks for giving him that contract, he proceded to say that he “likes Sanders, he’s a soft spoken guy”. I laughed heartily at that one.