Larry Sanders’ Path To A Second Chance

Larry Sanders has been out of the NBA for more than two years now, but the Cleveland Cavaliers think he’s worth another shot. Can he put his past behind him and help the Cavs push towards their third straight Finals appearance.

It’s easy for an NBA fan to be mystified as to why someone would walk away from a career as a professional basketball player.

It’s even more confusing to wonder why someone with so much promise, so much talent and so much swagger, would decide to walk away from the game of basketball.

Walking away from a game that has made someone millions of dollars is something that just doesn’t register with people on the outside looking in.

Every single day, there are children and teenagers across the world who aspire to be in the same position that only 1 percent of people who are gifted enough to play college basketball get the fulfillment of experiencing one day — playing in the National Basketball Association.

Out of all of those lucky 1-percenters who get the privilege of becoming an NBA player, an extremely small percentage of them decide that the dream they worked so hard to achieve is something they no longer desire

Larry Sanders was once a part of that minute group that decided that basketball was something they no longer wanted to be a part of, until now.

On Monday, Larry Sanders agreed to a deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers to join the team for the remainder of the season, with the likelihood of staying with the team through next season as well, according to The Vertical.

Sanders has been absent from the game since he last played for the Milwaukee Bucks. Sanders’ last game for the Bucks was a 108-101 loss to Charlotte Hornets on Dec. 23, 2014. In that game, Sanders recorded five points and eight rebounds in 27 minutes of play.

Over his five-year career with the Milwaukee Bucks — who drafted him with the 15th overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft — Sanders averaged 6.5 points and 5.8 rebounds in 19 minutes per game.

It wasn’t until his third season with the Bucks that he sprouted into an ultra-athletic, shot-blocking machine.

In the 2012-13 season, Sanders recorded 201 blocked shots, an average of 2.8 blocks per game, good enough for second-most in the NBA behind only Serge Ibaka (who averaged 3.0 blocks per game) while also averaging 9.8 points and 9.5 rebounds per game and shooting 50.6 percent from the field.

He even recorded a triple-double of 10 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 blocks against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the early stages of the season.

At the 2013 MIT Sloan Sports Analytic Conference, researchers went into great detail into trying to distinguish who the league’s best and worst interior defenders were, taking into account more than just blocked shots, but other key defensive areas such as opponents field goal percentage and shots altered.

Who did they choose as the league’s best interior defender? Larry Sanders.

In fact, he played so well that season, the Bucks decided before the 2013-14 season began they should give him a four-year, $44 million extension to stay in Milwaukee.

However, once the extension signed, things began to take a turn downhill. The idea of having to focus solely on basketball and the pressure of living up to such high expectations began to eat away at his personal happiness and the desire to continue playing professional basketball.

Sanders was ejected from three different games over a span of 10 days back in March 2013, seemingly due to frustration and a state of emotional distraught. Sanders was fined $95,000 for his actions during that span.

In December 2013, Sanders was involved in an altercation at a nightclub that would result in Sanders undergoing surgery to repair a ligament tear in his right thumb. The incident would sideline him for 25 games.

Sanders missed the final five games of the 2013-14 season due to a failed drug test and he has not played since he failed a second drug test in January 2015 — which resulted in a 10-game suspension.

He struggled heavily with depression, anxiety and mood disorders to the point where in February 2015, he felt that he had to check himself into Rogers Memorial Hospital in Milwaukee to rehabilitate his life.

Sanders felt trapped playing in the NBA and he had to get out. Leading up to his leave from the NBA, Sanders saw himself caught up in his emotions, trying to fight a battle against his mind that he simply couldn’t win — a battle that he could not win while playing professional basketball.

Battling through a series of ejections, suspensions, injuries and, worst of all, mental health issues, Sanders never had a chance to solidify himself as the player that many basketball minds thought he could be — one of the best young centers in the NBA.

Larry Sanders was supposed to be what DeAndre Jordan is now — an elite defensive presence on the interior with superior athleticism that allowed him to put-back dunk any miss and grab every rebound.

Sanders’ absence from the NBA has given him time to reflect on the other hobbies in his life that bring him so much joy, more joy than focusing exclusively on basketball ever could.

Those hobbies were art and music. He’s an avid artist and always has been.

He’s heavily involved with creating his own pieces of art; attending art galleries featuring some of his own work, producing a track for hip-hop artist, PartyNextDoor’s latest album titled P3, and even creating his own musical persona, L8Show – with the “8” being an homage to the number he wore on his jersey while he played with Milwaukee — where he produces and writes music.

Unlike other former athletes who who have given the hip-hop game a try, Sanders actually writes and records his own music.

Even when he attended VCU — a college he chose due to the fact that he was offered a basketball scholarship, but also because of the school’s excellent art program — he could never physically find time away from basketball to focus on his art and music, according to an interview with VICE Sports.

Sanders didn’t — and still doesn’t — want to be known as just a basketball player, because that just isn’t who he is. No one person is limited to doing one thing with their life, especially if that one thing isn’t fulfilling, and that is why Sanders walked away from the game.

But that’s the thing with playing in a league such as the NBA, there isn’t enough time to dedicate yourself to much else other than basketball and that’s just the truth behind not only the NBA, but every professional sport.

Nov 22, 2014; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks center Larry Sanders (8) knocks the ball away from Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) during the second quarter at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

That’s what makes his decision so risky. If he has to devote all of his time to focusing on basketball, will he end up in the same position that led him out of the NBA in the first place?

Are teams willing to compromise with him and acknowledge the fact that he wants to play basketball while also pursuing his other passions?

Sanders has been seeking a return to the NBA for more than a year now and he’s found a situation with the Cleveland Cavaliers that may be the best fit for someone in his position.

He’s being brought in by the Cavs to do the same thing that Andrew Bogut was meant to do before his injury–fill the team’s need for a premier interior defender.

Unfortunately, Sanders won’t necessarily be able to come in and contribute the same way that Bogut was expected to. Even with Bogut’s previous injury concerns, he still had much more experience than Sanders, especially when it comes to making deep playoff runs.

Sanders will essentially come in as a novice. More than two years removed from his last NBA game, he’ll have to make up a ton of ground in only a short amount of time as the playoffs quickly approach.

According to David Aldridge, the Cavaliers are expected to utilize their D-League affiliate and send Sanders to the Canton Charge in order to better prepare him for the playoffs.

As was with Bogut, Sanders isn’t going to be asked to do the things that earned him a plentiful contract extension nearly four long years ago.

If Sanders can provide some valuable minutes as an interior defender — block a couple shots and grab a few rebounds — then he’s doing everything that the Cavaliers are asking of him.

And if he can do that (a maybe a little bit extra), he could be looking at a revitalization of his career as an NBA player.

Maybe he’ll even bring back the goggles. We can only hope.

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