Bucks' Sanders looks to live up to new contract

Bucks' Sanders looks to live up to new contract
November 1, 2013, 1:45 pm
Share This Post

BOSTON — The Milwaukee Bucks rely on Larry Sanders to protect the paint with his shot blocking and rebounding.

And he's pretty good at it.

So it was only fitting that the Bucks provided the fourth-year center with some security in the form of a four-year, $44 million contract extension that was agreed upon this summer - months before Thursday's deadline for contract extensions.

"We felt like he was a game-changer," Bucks General Manager John Hammond told CSNNE.com. "The fact that he could dominate the floor on one end, the defensive end. When you start putting yourself in the category of being one of the best in the business in a particular aspect of the game, that can separate you and Larry Sanders is one of the best shot-blockers in the league."

Sanders is one of the few players from the 2010 draft class to be rewarded with a long-term contract extension prior to the Oct. 31 deadline.

Boston's Avery Bradley and Jordan Crawford were among Sanders' fellow class of 2010 alumni unable to come to terms with their respective teams on a new deal.

Sanders will get a chance to prove his worth tonight when the Boston Celtics host the Bucks in their home opener.

Sanders is hoping for a better night than Milwaukee's season-opening loss against New York in which he played just 12 minutes and finished with more fouls (5) than combined points (zero) and rebounds (4).

And while the Bucks have a slew of long-range shooters that the Celtics have to keep tabs on, the impact that the 6-foot-11 Sanders can make on games cannot be ignored.

"Sanders is a guy that can change a game on both ends of the floor if he gets to the glass on you, or if he gets angles on you," said Boston head coach Brad Stevens. "He's really hard to stop."

Which is why the Bucks wasted no time in trying to secure a long-term deal with Sanders who finished second in the league last season in blocked shots (2.8) per game.

The progress made by Sanders since the Bucks selected him with the No. 15 pick in the 2010 draft - four spots ahead of Bradley and 12 ahead of Crawford - has catapulted him to being one of the league's top young big men. Aware of his upgraded status in the eyes of many, Sanders said the idea of turning the Bucks' offer down to become a restricted free agent this summer was never given serious thought.

"I have kids," Sanders told CSNNE.com. "I have my second (child) on the way any day now. I have to get stability for them. That was my main focus, my family and making sure they are taken care of.

Sanders added, "What they (Bucks) offered me was more money than I thought I would ever see in my life. So I'm grateful for it and that I was able to get the extension, not knowing what the summer was going to entail."

And it is that element of uncertainty that has been a factor in so many teams being more open to having players simply hit the free agent market rather than lock them up with long-term deals. Sanders is one of just six players from the 2010 draft class to get a new a multi-year extension.

The most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement has more punitive stipulations for teams that exceed the luxury tax threshold often. That's why you see a number of teams like the Boston Celtics being more reluctant to spend until they absolutely have to.

By not re-signing Bradley and Crawford to extensions, the Celtics still have the option of matching any offer they each get this summer although Crawford's future in Boston is more sketchy than that of Bradley.

"We will stay under the tax this year," said Danny Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations. "We have to. As we're rebuilding, not just from a standpoint of the financial budgets but as a competitive advantage to stay under the cap."

Whether he received the contract extension or not, Sanders had every intention of coming into this season with a different, calmer approach to the game.

Foul trouble has been an issue for him throughout his career, often resulting in him losing his cool and composure. He spent this summer working on ways to better channel his frustration in ways that won't hurt the Bucks.

"Getting my emotions under control but at the same time using it to fuel me and not being emotionless out there," Sanders said. "That was my goal. It's a fine balance, but you have to find it. So I did a lot this summer just calming myself down."

He added, "I spent a lot of time to myself, in quiet places, thinking about the new ... a lot of Zen work."

The Four Agreements by Miguel Angel Ruiz was among the books he read, as well as a series of books by spiritual teacher Osho.

And while a calmer Sanders didn't do much in the Bucks' season opening loss to the New York Knicks, he remains convinced that his new approach to the game will pay off for both him and the Bucks. It has to in order for Milwaukee to build off of last season's playoff appearance which snapped a two-year postseason absence.

"He's a big part of our franchise going forward," Hammond said.

Sanders knows he will be counted upon to be more of a leader now, and has the kind of contract to justify being more outspoken.

But that's not his nature.

While he plays with a high level of intensity, he has a soft-spoken, gentle demeanor about him off the court.

As excited as he is about this season, he's even more thrilled about his soon-to-be three year old son Jasiah having a little sister (her name will be Jynesis) who is due to be born on Nov. 11.

"Making sure that they're taking care of, that was the priority for me in all this," Sanders said. "Now that that's taken care of, I can focus totally on helping my team continue to get better and for me to continue growing as a player."