No one was expecting a happy ending to the Larry Sanders Saga this week, but the ending appears imminent -- and it appears the Bucks will be dodging a major cap bullet in the process. Multiple reports on Wednesday morning suggested the buyout could more than cut in half the $36 million owed to Sanders over the next three-plus years, with most reports indicating the Bucks would opt to stretch the remaining amount owed to Sanders over seven years.
ESPN sources say that Milwaukee's buyout of big man Larry Sanders is all but done and sides' parting is soon to be made official— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) February 18, 2015
Hearing Larry Sanders is leaving more than $20 million the table in buyout with Bucks. Earned almost $8m this year. Getting $15m more.— Steve Kyler (@stevekylerNBA) February 18, 2015
Hearing the balance of Sanders payout will be stretched over seven years -- so the cap hit on Sanders should drop from $11m to $2.14m— Steve Kyler (@stevekylerNBA) February 18, 2015
Larry Sanders' buyout has been completed for days -- and he is expected to receive $13 million pay out on rest of $40M, source tells RealGM.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) February 18, 2015
As @ESPNSteinLine noted, Larry Sanders buyout w/ Milwaukee looks like it'll get done. But Bucks have not received signed paperwork, I'm told— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) February 18, 2015
Larry Sanders buyout could be close but not final yet I have been informed.— cfgardner (@cf_gardner) February 18, 2015
The buyout amounts reported by Kyler and Charania don't match up, so we'll have to see what the final figure ends up being. But either amount would represent a huge savings over simply waiving Sanders outright, which would have cost the Bucks almost $4 million this season and another $33 million going forward. The Bucks could opt to spread the buyout over the remaining term of Sanders' original deal (this year plus the next three), though the reports above suggest the Bucks would choose to stretch it over this year and the following seven years. In the latter case the Bucks would see a significant bump in cap space over the next three years, with Sanders' $11 million salary slot replaced by something in the ballpark of just $2 million. Using Kyler's stretch number plus his original contract value this year would get you to something like the cap table below. Consider this illustrative until we get the final details:
Two immediate reactions to all of this: First, no one leaves $20 million on the table because they're lazy or just a bit disinterested in basketball. I didn't know exactly what to expect from a final buyout amount, but Sanders' agent could have presumably fought the Bucks on this to force them to waive him outright, or simply continue to pay him while he sat out trying to address whatever personal demons he's trying to manage. Perhaps the Bucks could have tried to suspend Sanders if he continued to sit out, but given his apparent issues that likely wasn't something that would ever stand up to arbitration. And at that point you've got a seriously ugly situation that no one wants.
So it appears the Bucks and Sanders both just wanted to be done with the situation, with the Bucks also needing a conclusion this week so they could keep Jorge Gutierrez for the rest of the season. I'm not saying Sanders did them a huge favor, but if it was purely about money he presumably could have made it much more difficult. You can only hope he's able to address his problems going forward, with everything else of secondary importance.
Secondly -- and putting aside the severity of the situation for Sanders -- this would seem like a huge win for the Bucks, who now stand to enter next summer with a good chunk of cap space and have an open roster spot to keep Gutierrez or make another move ahead of Thursday's trade deadline. The team has excelled without Sanders and have a good chance to continue to do so going forward, and it simply didn't make sense to continue holding out hope that Sanders could right himself and re-integrate himself back into the team. It's not a happy ending for anyone, but it's an ending that was needed nonetheless.