Bucks buy out contract of troubled center Sanders

Larry Sanders last played for the Bucks on Dec. 23. He missed Milwaukee's next 11 games due to personal reasons. Then, a fourth failed marijuana test triggered a suspension for the center.

Tom Szczerbowski/Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

The Larry Sanders saga is finally over for the Milwaukee Bucks, as the two sides have completed a contract buyout that makes the troubled center a free agent, the team announced Saturday.

Sanders is reportedly walking away with roughly half of the $44 million contract extension he signed with the Bucks during the summer of 2013. Milwaukee has already paid the 26-year-old close to $7.2 million this season, the first year of the four-year extension.

Although he has been placed on waivers, it is unlikely Sanders will play in the NBA again this season.

"We believe this decision is in the best interest of our team," Bucks general manager John Hammond said in a statement. "We wish Larry well and remain excited about the future of the Bucks organization."

Sanders last played for the Bucks on Dec. 23 when he played 27 minutes against the Charlotte Hornets. He missed Milwaukee’s next 11 games due to personal reasons that were first described by the team as an illness.

A fourth failed marijuana test triggered a minimum 10-game suspension for Sanders. The suspension ended up lasting 12 games before the league determined the 26-year-old was in compliance with his treatment program.

Even with his suspension lifted, Sanders didn’t return to the Bucks, which made a buyout the likely end result. He has sat out Milwaukee’s last two games due to personal reasons.

"Management has done everything A to Z to make him comfortable," Bucks coach Jason Kidd said prior to the buyout being completed. "There are other issues that are taking place with this that they can’t control."

A breakout 2012-13 season in which Sanders averaged 9.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks earned the 6-foot-11 center a four-year, $44 million deal from the Bucks. The extension was announced at a local Boys and Girls Club in a much ballyhooed event.

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The No. 15 overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, Sanders didn’t even make it through one year of the extension, which didn’t kick in until this year. He has played in just 50 games over the last two seasons.

Sanders’ off-court issues first cropped up in November 2013, when he suffered a torn thumb ligament during an altercation at a Milwaukee nightclub. The injury required surgery and forced Sanders to miss 25 games.

After returning Dec. 27, Sanders played in 20 games for the Bucks before his season was ended after an inadvertent elbow from Houston’s James Harden fractured his right orbital bone.

Sanders was suspended by the NBA for violating the league’s anti-drug policy with a third failed marijuana test in April. The NBA allowed him to serve his five-game ban despite being injured, which allowed a fresh start the 2014-15 campaign.

In 27 games this season, Sanders averaged 7.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks. He appeared in front of the local media on Jan. 6 but did not reveal details surrounding his then 12-game absence, instead citing a need to resolve serious personal issues.

Sanders was suspended for a minimum of 10 games for his fourth failed marijuana test 10 days later, on Jan 16, and he has not been around the Bucks since.

"If you look around sports, not only in the NBA but all over the NBA, this is part of what we deal with," Hammond said Thursday when asked if he was disappointed with the way Sanders’ tenure with the team ended.

With Zaza Pachulia and John Henson manning the center position, Milwaukee is 17-8 since Sanders left the team. The Bucks acquired center Miles Plumlee as part of their three-team trade Thursday, bolstering their depth at the position.

Milwaukee now has an open roster spot, which could be used in a variety ways.

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