Former Bucks assistant coach: Larry Sanders "didn't come to play every night"

USA TODAY Sports

Larry Sanders just inked a big contract extension and has emerged as the new Face of the Franchise in Milwaukee, but according to a former coach his effort was inconsistent last season.

The excitement surrounding Larry Sanderscontract extension is certainly well-founded. The Bucks haven't had a first-round pick sign an early extension since Andrew Bogut. Assuming Sanders continues to develop his offensive game and doesn't regress defensively, this could be one of those terrific "draft and develop" success stories teams crave. Perhaps more importantly to fans, Larry has given them somebody to root for without hesitation. He says he wants to be in Milwaukee for many years, the Bucks want him too, everybody's great.

On the more depressing hand, all those good vibes have the devious ability to squelch anybody who might speak ill of the Man of the Hour. Speaking to Talkinhoopz.com, former Bucks assistant coach Anthony Goldwire threw a little cold water on the feel-good story of Sanders' growth.

Last year, and the year before that, Larry didn’t come to play every night, some nights he took off. Some guys felt like he didn’t have the right to speak. Now, once you get in the playoffs, now you fell like you want to talk.

That quote, referring to the reported discord that flared up during Milwaukee's short-lived playoff series against the Miami Heat, is certain to strike many by surprise. Goldwire, whom the Bucks hired prior to the 2010-2011 season, has seen most of Sanders' professional career up close, so he's about as qualified as anybody to comment on effort levels. He's also no longer a member of the coaching staff, which naturally raises questions of motive and timing. But at the heart of things, we can probably take a few things away from this revelation:

  • Sanders was wildly inconsistent for much of his early career, frequently hamstrung by foul trouble and a lack of polish. So "taking nights off" could just as easily mean a lack of focus on the court as a lack of effort, and I think many would view the former as more forgivable than the latter.
  • Similarly, the hot temper that plagued Sanders on occasion may have rubbed Milwaukee's coaches and players, who more than anyone suffer the consequences of losing a key piece of the rotation at crucial moments in a game, the wrong way.
  • We'll probably never know for sure what went on in the Bucks' locker room during that disastrous playoff series, but the most notable occurrence has to be the alleged showdown between Sanders and Monta Ellis. In his interview with Talkinhoopz, Goldwire identifies Ellis as one of the team leaders last season, which might shed some light on what happened. If Sanders suddenly decided to start talking once the postseason rolled around, it may have irked Ellis, who had accepted a leadership role much earlier. Ellis may be an imperfect player on the court, but he's a veteran who's been around much longer than Sanders and has earned some respect off the court.
  • If we really want to get into semantics, let's note the "and the year before that" qualifier. Sanders underwent a major transformation as a player between the last two seasons. It's not hard to believe his effort could have wavered much more while mired in uncertainty during his sophomore season before breaking out as a junior.
Goldwire's comments don't just cast aspersions on Sanders, though. His criticism extends to the organization as a whole:

"The organization as a whole wasn’t on the same page," Goldwire said. "The general manager, the coaching staff, and all the way down to the players, we were just all on different pages."

This is really the big issue here. The 2012-2013 Bucks were constructed like a balsa wood house in a dry, windy prairie--all they needed was a spark for things to go up in flames. With so much of the roster and coaching staff stuck on expiring contracts, goals and motivation couldn't be expected to stay aligned. Much of that conflict has been resolved. The Bucks now have a group of young players with solid upside on long-term deals, and they still have some salary cap flexibility going forward. There seems to be a more concrete plan (even if the endgame is still in doubt), and Sanders figures to be a key element in the execution of everything. It's up to him to fill the leadership void, while the coaching staff needs to find out if another player--hopefully more than one--is ready for a similar breakthrough.

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