Following a summer of upheaval and uncertainty, the Bucks saved their most obvious move for (perhaps) last.
Larry Sanders signed his long-anticipated four-year extension today, tweeting out the good news complete with an Instagram of him signing his new deal.
It's official..can't believe I've been granted this opportunity to represent Milwaukee for the next 5… http://t.co/4843aAjc0K— Nappy G. (@LarrySanders) August 20, 2013
As first reported last Friday by Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski, the extension reportedly will guarantee him $44 million over four seasons starting in the 14/15 season, the same sort of cash that the more erratic JaVale McGee and DeAndre Jordan hauled in the past two summers. Hint: that's a good sign for the Bucks, who will now avoid the possibility of another team extending Sanders a massive offer sheet next summer.
The 24-year-old Sanders will make just over $3 million next year in the last year of his rookie deal, and even with his hefty extension kicking in a year from now, the Bucks currently project to have a modest $50 million committed to 13 players heading into next summer. A snapshot of where the Bucks stand at present:
Sanders' evolution from underused fan favorite to Milwaukee's face of the franchise was rapid, but it hardly went unnoticed. He bounced back from a poor summer league showing a year ago with a strong training camp that carried it over into the regular season, eventually winning a starting spot and putting up monster numbers in the season's second half (12.1 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 2.3 bpg).
Advanced metrics were just as flattering, as Sanders rated among the league's best defenders by virtually every metric. A sample:
- Milwaukee was 5.9 pts/100 possessions better defensively with Sanders on the court and 5.0 pts/100 better overall.
- Synergy ranked him third among starting centers in fewest points-per-play allowed.
- Opponent shot data analyzed by Kirk Goldsberry suggested Sanders was the league's best interior defender.
And if high-level productivity and youth weren't enough, Sanders ticks most of the requisite boxes in the likability department as well. The frequency of "LAR-RY, LAR-RY!" chants last year at the Bradley Center were indicative of the connection he's built with Bucks fans over the course of his three season in Milwaukee, and he appears eager to assume the role of locker room leader as well. While he often struggled to control his emotions on the court and clashed with Monta Ellis in the playoffs, Sanders' recent presence on the bench during summer league and at the Cousins Center with rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo suggest he's looking to be the guy in Milwaukee.
It's a title that has essentially been vacant since Andrew Bogut's career was derailed by injury in the spring of 2010, but it's one that Sanders seems ready to embrace. That's critical for a Bucks team looking to move on from a highly dysfunctional 12/13 season, though Sanders will still need plenty of help (and good health) moving forward. Because let's be realistic: whether the Bucks' current collection of talent can one day develop into a 50-win core is a major question mark at best. Sanders himself doesn't look like much more than a third-banana type on a great team--without huge and unexpected strides offensively, he isn't likely to develop into a two-way threat in the Marc Gasol or Roy Hibbert mold. But that's OK, too. Five more years of what he did last year will certainly earn him every penny of his new contract, so you hope that the benefits of maturity will outweigh the added pressure of a new contract and bigger role.
Still, the pressure remains on the Bucks' front office to turn a much-needed summer overhaul into real improvement on the court. Retaining Sanders for the long-haul is part of it. It's the smart play for a number of reasons, especially given that the Bucks didn't have to overpay to get a deal done. But it's also very likely--and possibly in Milwaukee's best interest--that the benefits of this summer aren't felt until two or three years from now. In other words, patience would seem a virtue for all parties.
But patience can also be a euphemism for complacency, and there's no room for that in Milwaukee. Whether it's through the loaded 2014 draft, trade or free agency, a major infusion of talent is needed, and it's unlikely to come exclusively by developing the young talent already on board. That latter piece is critical, but the Bucks can't confuse a solid start to their rebuilding as meaning they can now put it on autopilot for the next couple years. Sanders' deal may be done, but the challenge of building a long-term winner in Milwaukee is just beginning.