Surprising no one, Charles Gardner reported today that Bucks' center Larry Sanders will miss the rest of the season while recovering from surgery on the fractured eye socket he suffered on February 8 against Houston. Though he is progressing quite nicely, there's little need to rush him back, especially after the year he has had. For some, this could be considered a bit of a disappointment, considering they would've liked to have seen Sanders finish the season on a better note. But for most people this simply puts Sanders' miserable season to its merciful conclusion, all without interfering with the Bucks' quest for the first overall seed in the draft lottery.
After inking his four-year, $44 million contract extension this past summer, Sanders was in the news for discussing his playing time, getting in a bar fight, getting into a locker room spat with then-teammate Gary Neal, and picking up technical fouls from both the court and the bench. And just when Sanders was starting to put some positive on-court stories together, an inadvertent elbow from James Harden cracked Sanders' eye socket, and here we are now.
Big things were expected of Sanders this season. He appeared to be in the beginning stages of accepting a role as the face of the franchise, and in the process said all the right things. Those plans have since been derailed for the time being, as the public opinion of Sanders has lost a lot of its shine. Remember #LarrySandersDay? That seems like eons ago, doesn't it?
As nightmarish as the past handful of months have been and as much as we'd like to wipe the slate clean, try and consider this: What if this was a good thing? What if this season was what Larry Sanders really needed?
Let's pump the brakes for a second before you demand that I get wheeled off to the asylum. I'm certainly not advocating that one go to the nearest nightclub, find someone to get in a fight with, and arm yourself with champagne bottles should things get heated. Far from it. That's really, really stupid and probably out of your price range anyhow. I'm also not going to instruct you to leave your puppies out in the cold or get in a shouting match with your roommates. Those things are pretty irresponsible and show that you may not have as strong of a handle of your maturity as you may think.
But sometimes crawling through the tunnel of excrement is the only way to come out clean on the other side. However egregious and self-inflicted the offenses are that drop you from the majority's favor, there's still an opportunity for that experience to provide you with perspective and a chance to change the narrative. Sanders, though he may not deserve it at this point, still has that opportunity
He will undoubtedly face an uphill climb, though. As Sanders' found out, you can't just say the right things and get by on being earnest. There also has to be a learning process involved if you want to grow into a leadership role, and Sanders acknowledges that much.
"I think you just take from it what you can," Sanders said of his unfulfilling season, with 23 games played and 20 starts. "It's funny you go through things in life and they help mold us into better people, if you learn from things.
"I think that's what this year was all about. Going through it is tough. But when you get through it you start to understand how you become better."
Becoming better off-court is more newsworthy, but improving on-court may be just as important for Sanders this summer. After breaking out with a career best 9.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks per game last season, Sanders regressed to 7.7 point, 7.2 rebound, and 1.8 block averages. Though the additional distractions didn't help his case at all, Sanders wasn't the same bouncy pick-and-roll and clean-up man he was the year before. His moves were a little bit more labored, as if he were trying to think through all of his options rather than sticking to what he was good at. More shots were forced in the post, and in general the weight of his new contract seemed evident at times. On the other end of the floor, Sanders was pushed around a lot more than last year. Opponents figured that if they put a body on Sanders, not only would he likely get frustrated and have his temper boil over, but he would also not be able to play the defensive angles as effectively as he did last year, a skill that garnered national praise.
His length and athleticism are pretty spectacular for a big man, but Sanders is looking forward to being not just a springy tube man.
"I want to put on a lot of weight," he said. "At least 15 pounds. I want to get to 240, 245, a good running weight. I want to be really strong. I want to feel unmoveable out there.
"I just see it being the hardest working summer since back when I was in college, maybe when I was going out for the draft (in 2010). That will be the only one I could probably compare to this one."
"Because of my eye and missing this time here, I get a chance to start back before everybody does," Sanders said. "That's my plan, to at least be in the gym three weeks before everybody else does, just working on my body. Just working on my health and my nutrition and my body."
"I'm excited about that. It's going to be a good summer for work."
It's going to have to be a good summer of work for Sanders. With the NBA Draft drawing closer and the Bucks still hanging on to the worst record, Milwaukee figures to pick in the top five and hopefully top three. That may be good news for everyone but Sanders, who plays the same position as potential top choice Joel Embiid of Kansas. Should Milwaukee be faced with the option of choosing Embiid, Sanders may find himself in another tough situation.
It's almost been a year since we last wrote about Sanders in this light. After putting an end to his disappointing campaign, he'll have another shot at making good on his talk. With perhaps a new perspective on what is exactly required of him, will he get it right this time?
The motivation to get it done will be there, but will the execution follow? Here's to hoping that it does. There may not be another opportunity for him in Milwaukee if it doesn't.