Larry Sanders on his return: 'I feel that I can simultaneously handle basketball and my personal life'

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LeBron James and Larry Sanders match up. (Getty Images)
LeBron James and Larry Sanders match up. (Getty Images)

Larry Sanders hasn’t exactly been silent, throughout his NBA comeback attempt, but for the first time his words appear to have taken on an official air. After weeks of rumors and workouts, the former Milwaukee Bucks big man has agreed to join the Cleveland Cavaliers on a minimum-salaried deal, rejoining the NBA after walking away from the final three years of a four-year, $44 million contract in order to seek treatment for anxiety and depression.

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Sanders, who averaged 9.8 points and 9.5 points with 2.8 blocks in only 27.8 minutes per game with Milwaukee in 2012-13, will reportedly begin his comeback with the Cavaliers’ D-League team, the Canton Charge.

On Tuesday morning, via Uninterrupted, Sanders gave us his opening reintroduction:

Via The Score, here are some snippets:

“I stepped away from the game for a little bit, and I know everyone thought it was for marijuana. But I had to develop some things on the personal side. I had things I had to handle; as a man, as a father, as a husband. And now that I’ve developed certain things and I’ve grown, I feel confident. And I’m truly thankful to the Cavs and LeBron [James, small forward], for believing in me and giving me this chance.”

The Cavs, losers of six of nine despite some brilliant roster move around the fringes made by general manager David Griffin, should be thankful for their timing and “this chance” as well. Sanders could act as a destructive tipping point in this year’s playoffs, should he return nearing his best, reminding of Chris Andersen at his Denver-peak (with the potential for better team defense) while working in what should be his prime age.

Mindful of his need for reps, with just a month left in the season, the Cavs are (“reportedly,” but it is David Aldridge …) going against precedent in sending Sanders to the D-League in order to play him into shape.

This is a fantastic move from a team that, under the previous administration fronted by ex-GM Chris Grant, ignored the D-League while No. 1 overall draft pick Anthony Bennett’s confidence and, eventually, career wasted away on Mike Brown’s bench.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue is no stranger to increased minutes, this is the guy playing Mr. Mind My Minutes LeBron James an at-times league-leading 36.6 a game, so it is feasible that Sanders could be run back into fitness at the major league-level. With Cleveland’s standings situation so tenuous, though, a minor league run seems fitting: Cleveland famously boasts the second-worst defensive rating in the league since the All-Star break and it remains two games up on the Celtics for the top spot in the East, badly out of the race for home court advantage in the 2017 Finals.

While the Larry Sanders we knew in Milwaukee would seem to be the needed salve, there were concerns about his conditioning dating back to the tryout stages of this (in 2017 terms) drawn-out comeback. Sanders flat-footing his way toward 10 rebounds and tipping three blocks because he’s tall in 29 return minutes won’t mean as much in real basketball terms if he’s late to cover on every screen and roll, or every attack on the rim.

He looks to be in fine shape, but merely appearing in “fine shape” would still leave him days if not weeks away from molding himself into NBA shape – and not just the kind of shape that leaves you able to play four games in six days, as Cleveland will have performed from March 6 until Tuesday evening.

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Things, somehow, are only about to get gnarlier. Starting on Tuesday the Cavs will be asked to do what the Golden State Warriors slogged through recently – with nearly-disastrous ramifications – and perform six road contests plus one home game against the East’s No. 3-seeded Wizards within a 12-day stretch to close out March.

(Actually, that’s not entirely correct. After that long road trip the team will be asked to play the second of a back-to-back pair of games on March 31.)

It’s a long, stupid season. Practice time is hard to come by even at home, let alone on a road trip, and the Cavs can’t afford to have Sanders supplanting Tristan Thompson or even LeBron’s minutes in Charlotte (after playing an entire country away in Denver two nights before) on March 22 while Boston is grabbing a win at home over Phoenix.

This is why the D-League insistence, as reported (again, it is David Aldridge), is encouraging.

That sort of option wasn’t around when Bison Dele (then, Brian Williams) huffed and puffed his way toward a needed turn as Chicago’s third big man during the team’s 1997 championship run. Dele, following a contract dispute with the rest of the league, had not played for the entire 1996-97 season before working his way back into shape 15.3 minutes at a time during nine regular season games, and yet it still wasn’t enough to get him back into top trim even during the playoffs.

Sanders would play those minutes and more in Canton, and have more time to perform than Dele (who signed with Chicago on April 2) ever had.

If he succeeds in working back into the sort of shape he showcased in Milwaukee (and even that wasn’t the greatest shape), Sanders will have a chance to develop into the most impactful late-season waiver wire pickup since Dele two decades ago. Far more potent than the P.J. Brown and Sam Cassell were in Boston in 2008, or Andersen in Miami during the 2013 championship turn.

That’s on Sanders, and his mix with the team, but mostly Larry. We’ve read endlessly about his time away and his reason for stepping aside to begin with, speaking in terms that have years removed before they can become anything but undetermined. Whatever drove and/or drives Larry Sanders is up to Larry Sanders to share, and thankfully he’s had no problem thus far in doing so, to his great credit.

In basketball terms, we could be looking at something special. All eyes on Canton, to start.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!