Thumbs down, Larry. Thumbs down. In case you haven't heard, Milwaukee Bucks big man Larry Sanders is expected to miss six weeks of the season as he recovers from a surgical procedure performed to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb. Sanders suffered the injury during an unsavory altercation at a local night club, and although no criminal charges will be filed, it already feels like Sanders' initial public apology will fall short. It's an unfortunate situation for a franchise that pinned its hopes on the lanky defensive ace this summer and signed him to a long-term extension as part of a re-branding effort designed to generate positive vibes with fans. That lucrative new deal won't kick in until the 2014-15 season, but that's hardly the point.
This is a tough hit for a franchise that can't absorb many more tough hits. Ersan Ilyasova and Larry Sanders were two of the best stories for the team last season, but the young offensive and defensive focal points of the remixed roster have yet to make an impact this year. With Ilyasova and Sanders ailing, I've found myself wondering if there's anything left that makes this squad compelling. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nate Wolters are nice pieces, but they aren't ready to takeover the spotlight. John Henson and Brandon Knight may be next in line to step up, but they're hardly household names or sure things to break out. How will Herb Kohl gets butts in seats?
At this point, the Bucks look like they are teetering on the precipice. I'm not sure they are interesting or competitive at the moment, both of which have been particular points of emphasis for a meddlesome owner over the past decade. After all the franchise has been through, this is going to be the spot to roll over and tank the season? With 77 games to go? I would welcome lottery odds optimization with open arms and a wide smile, but I have my doubts that it could happen.
While I do believe the defense will struggle without its best interior defender, it's hard for me to see how a so-called "stealth tank" can realistically develop from this situation. More Giannis, more Nate Wolters , more Brandon Knight at point guard, more Caron Butler anywhere could help it happen, but would it even be enough? "Tanking" has always been about securing a firm organizational commitment to pursuing a long-term goal of landing a potentially franchise-changing talent via the draft. It takes an unflinching courage from an owner and a bulletproof GM to follow through with such a risky plan. The Bucks still lack all of these necessary elements.
With nearly 94 percent of Milwaukee's regular season schedule left, it's not like Herb Kohl is going to get tricked into trotting out a terrible team. And it's also not as if Kohl has waffled even one iota away from his anti-tanking stance. Here's what Kohl told Howard Beck of Bleacher Report in a story published just 10 days ago:
"In our organization, there is this competitive need to be as good as we can every year," Bucks owner Herb Kohl told Bleacher Report. "It's an instinct. Even though one might argue that mathematically you're better off going the other way."
Even as the Sanders injury changes the calculus for this season, it's not as if Milwaukee's owner is interested in chasing ping pong balls:
"We recognize that the way the system is constructed...sometimes it's better theoretically to be very bad, because it gives you a better shot at a high draft pick," Kohl said, taking a long pause before adding, "But you know, it doesn't always work out that way."
It's hard to think that Kohl will treat this year different than any other:
"I feel real strong about trying to put out a decent product-a good product-for our fans. So I'm always saying to our basketball people, `We need to be as good as we can be.' This year's no different."
I hope that Rudy Gay, Danny Granger, Evan Turner and others will not be considered as trade options, but those outcomes still feel a lot more likely than the Bucks rolling over and losing 50 (or more) of their next 77 games just because Larry Sanders busted up his biggest digit. You could probably plaster up Larry's right hand and turn it into a club, and his best skill would still be playable.
If the news of Sanders' injury got you a bit excited about excited about tanking, I've got a thumbs down for you too. All I see is a team that lost one of its most interesting players in the most embarrassing way possible, and in the process became a lot less interesting for six weeks.
BUT FRANK MADDEN DISAGREES WITH ME, SO WE DEBATED THE ISSUE IN THE PODCAST POSTED BELOW! CHECK IT OUT:
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