Sanders has three years and $33 million remaining on his contract after this season. Stein also reported that, as the team works towards a buyout, Sanders is not expected to return:
With buyout talks officially underway, Larry Sanders is not expected to play for Bucks again. East’s 30-23 upstarts moving on without him
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) February 16, 2015
In 27 games (26 starts), Sanders averaged 7.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and 1.0 steals in 21.7 minutes per game this season.
Since signing a four year, $44 million extension in the summer of 2013, Sanders has played in a total of 50 games, while battling injuries, a variety of suspensions and most recently, personal issues.
It’s remarkable how quickly the situation with Larry Sanders has gone from positive to negative. The one time candidate for defensive player of the year and center of a glowing contract extension press conference at a local Boys and Girls Club quickly turned into an outcast last season. And just when it seemed like he was winning back the public this season, things went awry again.
As recently as mid-December, a feature was written by Sports Illustrated’s Ben Golliver that hit all of the “he’s working his way back on the court and in our hearts” trope notes. Sanders talked about moving on and being the hero he wanted to be. Golliver noted that he had accepted a reduced role in the best interest of the team and was trying to be a big brother for guys like Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Weeks after that story was published, Sanders was no longer with the team and reports emerged that he didn’t want to play basketball anymore. He surfaced to deny those reports, telling media that he was “in the process of working things out now to do as best for my psyche and my physical health going forward.” Not long after taking leave, Sanders was suspended by the league for violating its drug policy. The suspension lasted for 12 games.
He received a great deal of vitriol from fans and seemed to respond to both the frequent attacks via social media channels and general speculation on what was next with him with a series of occasionally cryptic or combative tweets, the most recent of which simply saying, “Soon you will all know the truth.”
Milwaukee will very likely have to eat a healthy, healthy portion of the remainder of Sanders’ deal, though that doesn’t mean they’re doomed to salary cap hell. The Detroit Pistons waived Josh Smith earlier this season rather than reaching a buyout with him, which cost them the entire $27 million that remained on his deal, but they were able to use the “stretch provision” in the collective bargaining agreement. Per Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ, here’s an example of how the stretch provision works:
If the player is waived from September 1 to June 30, then the current season is paid per the normal payment schedule, and any remaining years are stretched over twice the number of years remaining plus one as described above. For example, if the player is waived on December 1 with two seasons remaining on his contract at $10.2 million and $10.5 million, respectively, then the current season (at $10.2 million) is paid normally, and the final season (at $10.5 million) is stretched over three years (one season times two, plus one) and paid in even amounts of $3.5 million per year.
So, hypothetically, if Sanders is waived and a buyout deal is reached so Milwaukee has to only pay $32 million of his $33 million in remaining salary after this season, they would have to pay out that over seven years, which is his three remaining years times two, plus one year. The Bucks could then spread his salary cap hit out over that period of time or decide to take the entire hit as it currently exists, with the $32 million counting towards the cap over just the next three seasons.
Regardless of how the math works, it’s all messy and sad and a blow to Milwaukee’s #OwnTheFuture mantra. Sanders was supposed to be part of that future. At 26-years-old, he was one of the young guys the Bucks were counting on before the season to help turn around a moribund franchise as a new ownership group embarked on a new franchise identity. Alongside Giannis and Jabari Parker, Sanders seemed as sure a bet as any player to be a long term piece for the franchise. That bet was based partly on the impact of the contract Milwaukee’s now trying to get out of, but also because he was one of the few players on the roster that had display legitimate top of the NBA type skills, as a shot-blocker and defender, in his career at some point.
But the NBA is not a simple or stable place. Relationships evolve, for better and worse, over time. We’ve apparently reached a point where the Bucks and Larry Sanders (or at the very least the Bucks) feel like there’s no salvaging this relationship and it’s time to move on.