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.
Sources tell me that Bucks center Larry Sanders recently told some Bucks officials that he doesn’t want to play basketball anymore.
— Gery Woelfel (@GeryWoelfel) January 5, 2015
Not trying to dispute anyone’s reporting, but the idea that Larry Sanders told anyone he didn’t want to play any more was news to Larry.
— Steve Kyler (@stevekylerNBA) January 5, 2015
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.