Two years after Larry Sanders walked away from a lucrative NBA contract and checked himself into a program for anxiety, depression and mood disorders following four violations of the league’s marijuana policy, the former Milwaukee Bucks big man is “officially stepping back into the game.”
Officially stepping back into the game,looking for a good fit but it shouldn't be long now,I really missed the game,I think it missed me 2 ????
— Larry Sanders (@l8show_thegoat) January 27, 2017
Sanders has been hinting about a comeback for weeks on social media, teasing Celtics fans with a series of cryptic tweets that included, “Coming to a city near you,” “Boston for New Year’s” and “Damn that was a good workout.” So, it should come as little surprise that this more official announcement coincided with reports he had indeed worked out with the C’s, first reported by RealGM’s Keith Smith.
Of course, Sanders also made veiled references to the Warriors and Cavaliers over the summer and more recently tagged his location at training sessions in Miami and Los Angeles, so we shouldn’t read too much into one destination as a potential landing spot. The good news is that — two years removed from telling The Players’ Tribune, “I love basketball, and if I get to a point where I feel I’m capable of playing basketball again, I will,” — he’s seemingly mentally healthy enough for a comeback.
However troubled, Sanders was a rising star in 2013, placing seventh in Defensive Player of the Year voting at age 24 and securing a four-year, $44 million contract extension from Milwaukee. Over the next 16 months, Sanders allegedly injured his thumb in a bar fight, openly endorsed marijuana use and reportedly walked off the job, leading to a series of suspensions and prolonged absences.
That culminated in Sanders negotiating a buyout that would pay him nearly half of the extension despite playing just 27 games in the first year of his new deal. By way of the stretch provision, Sanders remains on Milwaukee’s books for $1.9 million per season through 2022. Sanders later revealed his reasons for abruptly leaving the NBA — from fear for his mental and physical well-being to a strong desire to pursue artistic endeavors — in interviews with both The Players’ Tribune and Vice Sports.
It is for all of these reasons we should not be shocked by this report from MassLive.com’s Jay King on Sanders’ Celtics session: “A source suggested he did not look overly impressive during the workout.”
Still, there is reason to be intrigued by a 28-year-old near-7-footer with hops who was the answer to questions raised by Kirk Goldsberry and Eric Weiss about the NBA’s best interior defender at the 2013 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, and who made this statement to Vice just five months ago:
“You want to see me create? Watch me play defense,” said Sanders. “Because I’m thrilled by it. I love playing defense, I love watching how guys move and who’s on the cut. I love anticipating blocks. I love contesting shots, altering shots. I love it. I love guarding somebody. I hate if someone scores on me — I hate that! I’m driven by it, man. It fuels me.”
Sanders averaged 12.9 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per 36 minutes in his last full season. In essence, he was DeAndre Jordan and Rudy Gobert before DeAndre Jordan and Rudy Gobert. But that was four years ago, and it’s been 766 days since he last played in earnest, so there is also reason to be skeptical of a player who left the game behind following a series of issues on the court and off it. Any team offering Sanders another shot would need to be reassured of his commitment to basketball and the responsibilities that come with being a pro, including, however archaic, the NBA marijuana policy.
Here’s hoping a potential return means Sanders has come to grips with the inner demons that led him away from the NBA, because the last thing anybody wants to see is for those to return along with him.
– – – – – – –