Larry Sanders became a Milwaukee Buck again on Wednesday night. Of course, he wasn’t allowed to join the team at the Bradley Center, as the Bucks fell to the Indiana Pacers by a 104-102 score, but he was deemed medically cleared to play after a broken orbital bone was initially deemed enough to knock him out for the rest of Milwaukee’s wildly disappointing 2013-14 season.
Sanders will sit out four more games following that one after coming out on the wrong side of the NBA’s drug policy, most assuredly testing positive for marijuana. It was initially thought that Sanders, who somewhat backtracked on his thoughts about the illegal drug following Milwaukee’s initial press release, would have to serve his suspension when the 2014-15 campaign dawned, but apparently the Bucks and the league have found a way around that.
It turns out there's a process by which players are physically cleared to play by the team and an independent league-appointed doctor before suspensions can be served. What happened in this case, according to a league official: the Bucks' team doctor cleared Sanders, and sent his evaluation to the NBA. League officials reviewed and accepted the team doctor's conclusion. Then an independent physician contracted by the league examined Sanders and confirmed the team doctor's conclusion that Sanders is physically able to play.
After all of that, the NBA agreed that Sanders could be activated and begin serving his suspension. When Sanders' suspension ends, the Bucks' season will be over. And the whole episode is wrapped up neatly.
The NBA's process on determining fitness before allowing injured players to begin suspensions is sound. You can't do much more than review the team's conclusion and assign an independent review. The problem in this situation is that the Bucks basically admit that Sanders is fit to play, but they have been choosing to sit him as they close in on guaranteeing the max number of draft lottery combinations.
So, the Bucks have gone through collectively bargained channels to assure that their star player, who began the season by injuring himself in an alleged bar fight, can sit out a drug suspension run over the length of games they had no plans on playing him in anyway, all while the Bucks lose games in preparation for the league’s worst record and hoped-for top pick in the draft. All while Sanders, presumably healthy and away from both packed bowls and bars, can start the 2014-15 season anew.
It’s a bit slimy. And, frankly, I don’t have a problem with it in the slightest.
Everyone is getting what they want here, nobody is going to be upset by this save for potentially a few cable TV and radio pundits with time to fill, and credit the Bucks for using typically un-Bucksian alacrity in making sure Sanders’ suspension came off the books before the summer hit.
You may also recall that Sanders’ original injury diagnosis had him potentially returning to play at the end of March, and we’ve seen plenty of NBA players work with head gear before. Reggie Miller sustained a similar injury just before the 1996 playoffs, and he returned to action just over three weeks after taking a shot from Otis Thorpe.
Yes, the Bucks sat Sanders longer than they had to because they wanted to lose games. And they only asked an independent doctor to review Sanders’ health and game potential once it became apparent that they could sneak his drug suspension – one levied after Larry Sanders was caught smoking marijuana multiple times – under the 2013-14 radar. He’s not even allowed on the bench, which helps.
It’s all very unseemly, but it’s also legal and the situations warrant it. I’m not complaining, and neither will Bucks fans (who have been begging the team to bottom out for years) certainly are well on board with this.
What say you, ranters? Ravers?
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