According to CBSSports.com's Ken Berger, Milwaukee Bucks players Monta Ellis and Larry Sanders nearly came to blows in a heated exchange following the team's 104-91 loss in game 3 of their first-round playoff series with the Miami Heat. The report comes from four people with knowledge of the confrontation, according to Berger's report.
Apparently the confrontation was sparked by comments from Sanders regarding the team's priorities following the home loss back on April 25:
...Sanders vented in the locker room and said in a fiery speech, "We need to start playing together as a team and stop worrying about next year," according to one of the people briefed on the confrontation. "We need to stop being selfish and start worrying about right now."
Ellis evidently felt the comment was directed at least partially at him. He approached Sanders after the comments and tempers flared before a teammate separated the two. The report suggests it never became physical and neither player was disciplined afterwards.
Both Ellis and teammate Brandon Jennings can test free agency this summer, and Sanders may have been suggesting they were both more concerned about their own futures than trying to avoid a sweep at the hands of the Heat. Jennings and Ellis both struggled overall in the postseason: Jennings played well in game 1 but shot under 30% for the series, while Ellis averaged only about 14 points per game. For what it's worth, Ellis took only 9 shots in the game 3 loss and had 6 assists, but I doubt very much any tirade from Sanders was inspired by a glance at the box score. It's also worth noting that Ellis has generally been thought to be a popular player, and was elected a team captain this season.
This isn't the first mention of impending free agency damaging the Bucks' chemistry or performance. John Hammond himself has indicated that the high number of free agents was less than ideal.
That players like Sanders and Ellis were frustrated during their playoff sweep is understandable, and Sanders certainly doesn't have a reputation as a "reserved" personality. But this sort of locker room discord speaks to how dysfunctional the Milwaukee Bucks were by season's end, and likely had plenty to do with the dismissal of interim head coach Jim Boylan. It also helps explain why the Bucks' coaching search seems focused quite significantly on finding a coach with a strong "presence".
Who knows how any bad blood might affect Monta Ellis' decision to enter free agency this season, but a contentious locker room is a hard thing to overcome when trying to build a
championship playoff-caliber team. Just another thing to think about this summer.