Larry Sanders and the Milwaukee Bucks agreed to a four-year $44 million contract-extension this summer. Subsequently, there were relatively high expectations for the center in his fourth season that he would continue to show progression in his development and look like a major building block with his performance in the 2013-14 NBA season.
That’s far from how things have played out, though. After playing in the first three games of the season, Sanders suffered a thumb injury in a bar fight that required surgery and kept him out for over a month and a half. After playing 20 more games intermittently following that injury, though, Sanders suffered a fractured orbital bone that has kept him out since early February. Now that injury will officially sideline him for the remainder of the season.
According to a report from Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Bucks have shut down Sanders for the remaining 14 games of the season. This isn’t exactly shocking considering that the Bucks still maintain the worst record in the NBA and are playing for lottery percentages at this point, but it is another unfortunate development regarding the center.
There have been a multitude of concerns voiced about Sanders. He often reacts immaturely on and off the court, some people question his work-ethic, he wasn’t good when he was on the floor this season, and several other things have been brought up in regards to people questioning his future with Milwaukee and how much he’s actually going to develop.
However, I don’t think the Bucks can jump ship just yet. To begin with, the extension they signed Sanders to isn’t even in effect yet, which means they still have time to work with him and to further build a team. It also makes it harder to deal his contract. I’m sure some team in the league would bite, but it’s not an easy task to get a team to commit to a player being paid an average of $11 million per year for the next four years based largely on potential.
More than any of that, though, there is so much more that the Bucks can do to help cultivate Sanders into becoming the player he has the potential to being. Sanders is an elite shot-blocker that can be molded into an overall elite defender and rim-protector. The big man also has a moldable and workable offensive game to compliment that. However, Milwaukee can’t expect a guy with maturity issues that needs to develop mentally and skill-wise to do so when they put together a roster that is basically a flaming garbage pit around him. That’s just setting Sanders up for failure.
Though it is also a work-in-progress, the Bucks need to try and follow the example that the Sacramento Kings are setting with how they’re handling DeMarcus Cousins. While Cousins is more talented than Sanders and has issues more with his maturity and mentality than anything else, the Kings have committed to the center and are working to change the culture to a more hospitable environment for Cousins to grow and thrive in. That’s not what’s happening right now in Milwaukee.
The concerns about Sanders are valid. You can’t have players missing time because of bar fights and getting technical fouls or ejected every other game. However, there is still a great deal of potential left to be tapped into with Sanders moving forward. This year may be lost, but it’d be illogical to me if the Bucks didn’t hold fast to the big man and try to set him up better for development and prosperity, even if it’s just for another year.