The NBA announced on Friday that injured Bucks big man Larry Sanders has been suspended five games for violating the league's anti-drug policy, because it's 2014 and this is the Bucks and we're talking about Larry Sanders and GOOD LORD WHEN IS THIS NONSENSE GOING TO STOP?
The Bucks issued a terse boiler plate statement condemning Sanders' actions, which also included Sanders' admission that his suspension was related to marijuana use:
"Larry Sanders has a responsibility to every person in our organization and our fans. We are all disappointed by the news of his suspension."
Larry Sanders issued the following statement:
"I apologize to the entire Bucks organization and our fans for being suspended five games for using marijuana in violation of the NBA Anti-Drug Program. I take full responsibility for my actions."
Sanders has been out since early February with a fractured eye socket and was ruled out for the remainder of the season last month. That wasn't surprising given the lack of incentive (ahem) that the Bucks had to get Sanders back on the court this season, though they now face the likelihood of missing Sanders for the first five games of the 14/15 campaign as well. Note that player suspensions only take effect once the player is deemed physically able to play, meaning his current injury absence can't be counted.
Though this is the first public announcement of Sanders failing a drug test, the league's drug policy specifies that players are only suspended for five games after a third failed drug test. And that's precisely what makes Sanders' latest misstep so troubling. In the grand scheme of morality, an average citizen smoking marijuana is hardly the end of the world. Heck, an injured athlete smoking marijuana in principle isn't the end of the world either.
But regardless of your opinion on marijuana or recreational drug use more broadly, the reality is that the league and the players have collectively bargained rules that take precedence (see page 379 of the CBA if you want the details). If you get caught once, you get a slap on the wrist--and a ticket to the league's treatment program. Twice and it's a $25,000 fine. Three times and it's a five-game suspension, at which point it's no longer fun and games and bags of Nacho Cheesier Doritos.
Every player should know better, and that would seem doubly true for someone like Sanders, whose fourth season has been a trainwreck of bar fights, mistreated puppies, poor play and unfortunate injuries. Another public misstep won't do anything to win back the trust of the organization or its fans, though that doesn't mean Sanders is a lost cause either. For all the technical fouls and off-court skirmishes with guys like Monta Ellis and Gary Neal, Sanders can't simply be dismissed as a bad apple or locker room cancer. He's frustrating and complicated, but he's not just a bad guy with a big paycheck. I've never heard anyone with knowledge of the team question his desire to get things right, and there's a reason youngsters like Giannis Antetokounmpo love him like an older brother. Sanders wants to get things right in Milwaukee, and the on-court abilities he showed a year ago prove that he's talented enough to do it. But you can only make so many mistakes before even the most patient franchise will want to move on.
So are the Bucks at that point yet with Sanders? Well, at this point the odds would still seem to suggest Sanders gets a chance to turn things around in Milwaukee, if for no other reason than his market value has never been lower. With his $11 million per season extension set to kick in this summer, Sanders is no longer a cheap asset that can be easily moved on a whim. And while you'd likely find some teams out there willing to roll the dice on the 25-year-old turning things around, the Bucks aren't in any position to squander assets--nor is Sanders in a position to squander yet another chance to put his terrible season behind him.