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NBA PM: Don’t Rush to Judge Larry Sanders

Before we believe the reports of him wanting out or criticize Larry Sanders, he deserves to tell his side of the story.

Yannis Koutroupis profile picture
Updated 10 months ago on
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Milwaukee Bucks center Larry Sanders is in an enviable position that hundreds of millions of basketball players around the world would do anything to be in. Yet, according to Gery Woefel of the Racine Journal Times, he wants out of it.

The former 15th overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft is in the first year of a four-year contract that will pay him a guaranteed $44 million. He was given a clean slate this offseason when the Bucks were taken over by new ownership and coaching staff, who promised him none of his past discretions would be held against him in hopes that it would help him bounce back after the worst year of his career.

While not quite the Sanders who put up 9.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks a game in 2012-13, he was a sizeable contributor to the Bucks’ surprising success this season. Sanders was averaging a respectable 7.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. It wasn’t the best-case scenario the Bucks could have dreamt up, but it was a significant improvement over last year’s debacle, which was low-lighted by a failed drug test for marijuana, a videotaped fight at a nightclub that went viral and a broken orbital bone that ended his season prematurely.

Slowly, Sanders seemed to be getting back on track.

Then, last week Sanders was taken out of the lineup for what was then reported as flu-like symptoms. A couple days later, Bucks head coach Jason Kidd clarified that it was due to “personal reasons”.

It would be unfair and irresponsible to try and guess exactly what those personal reasons are without Sanders having the chance to explain them himself. However, we can take a deeper look into what we do know about Sanders.

Sanders was somewhat saved by the game of basketball player in high school, where he was getting in trouble and headed down a completely different path than the one he ended up on. As the tallest player at his high school, he was basically dragged to the court – and within a short period it was extremely evident that he natural gifts that could take him a long way. He became a high-profile recruit who was talented enough to play at any of college basketball’s most illustrious programs, but he committed early to Virginia Commonwealth and never wavered. Shortly after, thanks in part to him and Eric Maynor, VCU would become one of the most preeminent mid-major programs in the country a tradition that has continued to this day.

At VCU Sanders majored in sociology and took a keen interest in religious studies. Originally, he wanted to major in art, but it would have prevented him from fulfilling his other responsibilities as a student-athlete. He may have been most well-known for his accomplishments on the basketball court, but that did not define him. Sanders has also since become a father, one of the most life-changing experiences there is.

“I love my job, the team, fighting for something, competing against another team,” Sanders said in a 2013 interview with Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. “I love to play, but it doesn’t consume me. Some people fall in love with the basketball, and what they can do with it – but it’s a team sport. I love the team aspect of it.

“I like to stay creative. Creativity is the only thing you own. You don’t really own anything in this world but what you create. And our imagination is just endless.”

There’s nothing wrong with having other interests if you’re a professional basketball player. In fact, it can be therapeutic to have an outlet that allows you to escape the demanding life of a professional athlete, which creates a spotlight and expectation level that can be at times overwhelming.

What’s most important is to have a balance between the two and meeting the responsibilities that come with being a pro. Sanders has shown at times, like when he moved to Brandenton, Florida for several weeks during the summer to work with the highly-respected Dan Barto of IMG on reforming his jump shot and learning how to train like a pro, that he is willing to put in the work – and enjoy doing so.

So, before we all rush to judge Sanders and criticize him for passing up on an opportunity many want but few receive, we should wait and give him the chance to tell his side of the story, and state whether he truly wants to walk away. This certainly wouldn’t be the first time second-hand information is distorted, and Sanders deserves the chance to address it, since after all – it’s his life. Nobody is more fitting to discuss it than him.

Durant, Teague named players of the week: The Atlanta Hawks’ Jeff Teague and the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant today were named NBA Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week, respectively, for games played Monday, Dec. 29, through Sunday, Jan. 4.

Teague led the Hawks to a 3-0 week, behind a conference-leading 23.7 ppg, and his 8.3 apg and 2.67 spg were both good for second in the conference. Teague shot .500 or better from the field in all three games, and handed out at least six assists in each contest. On Dec. 30, during a 109-101 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, Teague scored 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field, and added 11 assists, five rebounds and three steals. At 25-8 (.758), the Hawks stand alone atop the Eastern Conference.

Durant helped the Thunder to a 2-0 week, which included wins over the Phoenix Suns and Washington Wizards, behind a league-leading 39.0 ppg. He added 9.0 rpg and 4.5 apg, and ranked eighth in the West in three-point field goal percentage with a mark of .556 (10-of-18). On Dec. 31, Durant scored 44 points on 13-of-23 shooting from the field and a perfect 12-of-12 effort from the foul line, as the Thunder topped the Suns 137-134 in overtime.

Budenholzer, Stotts Named Coaches of the Month: The Atlanta Hawks’ Mike Budenholzer and the Portland Trail Blazers’ Terry Stotts today were named the NBA Eastern and Western Conference Coaches of the Month, respectively, for games played in December.

Budenholzer led the Hawks to the best record in the NBA in December, 14-2 (.875). Atlanta won seven consecutive games to open the month, part of an overall nine-game winning streak which dated back to Nov. 28. Following a one-point loss to the Orlando Magic on Dec. 13, the Hawks reeled off a five-game winning streak from Dec. 15-23, which included wins over the Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers. Atlanta posted identical 7-1 marks at home and on the road during December.

Stotts guided the Trail Blazers to the Western Conference’s best record in December, 13-3 (.813). Portland recorded three winning streaks of four-or-more games on the month, including a stretch with five consecutive wins from Dec. 13-20, during which all but one win came by double digits. The Trail Blazers, who rank in the top three in the NBA in opponents points per game allowed, surrendered 100-plus points just five times in 16 December contests. The Trail Blazers played three overtime games during December, and won them all.

Other nominees for Coach of the Month were Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau, Dallas’ Rick Carlisle, Golden State’s Steve Kerr, Los Angeles Clippers’ Doc Rivers, Milwaukee’s Jason Kidd, Oklahoma City’s Scott Brooks, Toronto’s Dwane Casey, and Washington’s Randy Wittman.

Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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