UPDATE: Jason Kidd appeared on 620-WTMJ last night and suggested that Sanders could return to the team sometime this week, while Sanders' agent Happy Walters not surprisingly refuted reports that Sanders was not interested in returning to play basketball. Check out our podcast and additional discussion of the Sanders' situation here.
Not surprisingly it was longtime Sanders critic Gery Woelfel who delivered the first reported speculation about the reasoning behind Sanders' absence, setting the NBA internet echo chamber ablaze when he tweeted on the subject this afternoon:
Sources tell me that Bucks center Larry Sanders recently told some Bucks officials that he doesn't want to play basketball anymore.— Gery Woelfel (@GeryWoelfel) January 5, 2015
Some friends of Sanders told me last summer they were concerned Sanders wasn't committed to basketball and wanted to explore other options.— Gery Woelfel (@GeryWoelfel) January 5, 2015
Wait, Larry Sanders' "friends" talk to Gery Woelfel? Surprising!
Shortly thereafter, Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders seemed to refute that idea -- albeit while saying he didn't want to refute anyone's reporting:
Not trying to dispute anyone's reporting, but the idea that Larry Sanders told anyone he didn't want to play any more was news to Larry.— Steve Kyler (@stevekylerNBA) January 5, 2015
Larry was out with the flu, has been dealing with some personal issues and is planning to re-join the team in the next couple of days.— Steve Kyler (@stevekylerNBA) January 5, 2015
For starters, the notion of Sanders losing his passion for the game wouldn't exactly come as a shock -- let's remember that by all indications he's not playing basketball by his own choice at the moment. That in itself is a major problem for the Bucks, who suddenly have a talented but immovable asset on their balance sheet and a major distraction in the PR department. But whether Sanders is out for a few days or forever, the bigger question is probably why Larry Sanders wouldn't want to play basketball. And unfortunately in that respect we seem to know as little today as we did on Friday. Sanders' past issues -- a difficult upbringing, on-court anger issues, locker room dust-ups, bar brawls, a suspension for marijuana use, animal abuse charges -- are a treasure trove for anyone looking to speculate about what may currently be troubling him, and for that we still have no real answers.
Ultimately, it could be as simple as Sanders losing interest or passion for the game that has made him a millionaire, though that would also seem an overly simplistic answer for a person who has proven at once thoughtful, complicated and entirely unpredictable. Sanders has never shied away from expressing his love of interests as diverse as art, fashion and skateboarding, and it's probably no coincidence that his history with the game of basketball isn't typical of NBA players. He came to the game relatively late in high school, developed slowly throughout college, and has never shied away from discussing his other passions. For better or worse, he's never seemed like the sort of person who wanted to let his status as an NBA player define him -- a mindset at once commendable in the abstract and rather concerning for anyone paying him $11 million a year to actually, you know, be an NBA player.
As a result, even if Woelfel's sourcing is accurate, we would still be left to ponder what the real story is. Could it really be as simple as losing interest in one thing to pursue another? Perhaps. But turning your back on any job -- let alone one that pays you unimaginable riches --- could imply any number of bigger issues, especially considering the media spotlight and pressure that comes with it. Simply walking away from basketball would also mean Sanders would stand to lose the remainder of the $44 million contract extension he signed in the summer of 2013, a scenario that's difficult to imagine at this point.
Most rational human beings could stand to fake it for a few more years until they retire in their early 30s, at which point they could then focus the rest of their lives on doing whatever it is they actually like doing. I'd have to guess that's what will ultimately happen here -- a Bison Dele-style retirement seems rather out there, even for Larry -- though ultimately we're still just guessing. Maybe Sanders is back in a week (as Kyler implies), maybe he's not. For now, the fact that the Bucks have not announced a formal suspension would imply they're still playing the long game and hoping he figures out whatever is preventing him from being with the team. Maybe it's reconcilable, maybe it's not. But one way or another the Bucks have to sort out how they salvage something from the situation.
In the meantime, the Bucks' players continue to chug along without Sanders, with their 95-82 win in New York last night the latest example of a team coping quite well without its one-time defensive anchor. While Sanders may no longer need basketball, it appears his teammates are realizing they don't need him either.