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Just a year and a half after signing a massive contract extension, and just more than half a season into that extension, the Milwaukee Bucks and Larry Sanders will soon part ways. The Bucks will flip his contract using the NBA’s stretch provision, and Sanders has agreed to leave quite a chunk of change on the table after buyout negotiations in order to become a free agent and leave Milwaukee.
Sanders, who had recently been reinstated by the NBA after serving a suspension after testing positive several times for marijuana use, had yet to return to Milwaukee and clearly wanted out. Though the Bucks have been one of the league’s bigger surprises this season, Sanders apparently wanted no part of working with the franchise. Sources told Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski that he planned on curbing his marijuana use and moving forward with his NBA career, and the defensive-minded big man clearly wants to write his second act elsewhere. The buyout is not official, but it’s not far off.
RealGM’s Shams Charania was the first to report what ESPN’s Marc Stein had touched on earlier this week. Multiple outlets then outlined the plan Milwaukee and Sanders cobbled together – the 26-year-old will leave $21 million of the $44 million he signed for in 2013 on the table. Sanders has already been paid $8 million on his current contract, and the Bucks will use the stretch provision to pay him a reported additional $13 million to $15 million over the next seven seasons.
This means the Bucks will be on the hook for just less than or more than $2 million a year until 2022, but that’s still a massive decrease from what they already owed Sanders. Prior to this agreement, Sanders was owed $11 million a year until the summer of 2018. The Bucks are already well under the salary cap, and even if the team hands Brandon Knight a massive contract next summer the squad will still have heaps of cap space with Sanders mostly off their books.
To call Sanders’ time in Milwaukee “star-crossed” would be putting it lightly. He’s certainly had his moments, and the Bucks shouldn’t be shamed for offering him that four-year, $44 million extension, but he’s had numerous pitched battles with both teammates, coaches, officials and multiple opposing players. Just a few weeks into the 2013-14 season he was involved in a bar fight that led to a torn ligament in his right thumb, costing him 25 games. Sanders was also cited twice for leaving his German shepherd puppies outside in the freezing cold.
Shifting attitudes regarding marijuana use allow us to rightfully pitch Sanders’ reliance on pot as far less harmful than allegedly assaulting someone at a nightclub or endangering the lives of two defenseless animals, but as a professional Sanders was letting just about everyone down by perpetually smoking the stuff. The NBA’s tests for marijuana are rather lax, but they do test for it and Sanders has just about gone out of his way to repeatedly fail to dodge the tests. He was handed a five-game suspension last season and a 10-game suspension this season, indications that he hasn’t even bothered to not smoke pot even with the knowledge that another mandated test (which increase in frequency with each appearance of pot in a player’s system) was coming up.
He’s only 26, and he should have another decade’s worth of good basketball in him. At his peak in 2012-13, Sanders was the rare defender that could both roam for endless rejections (Sanders led the NBA in block percentage that season), while still playing standout team defense and minding the glass. Once the buyout becomes official, Sanders (who has played just 26 games this season) will be able to sign with a new team and be eligible for the playoffs. The fact that the East-leading Atlanta Hawks have just less than $5 million in cap space and an open roster spot should leave the rest of the NBA rather frustrated. Sanders could really make a difference this spring.
He’d have to act differently, however. Something that hasn’t exactly come naturally to Larry Sanders in five NBA seasons.
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