Just a few years ago, Larry Sanders was one of the best up and coming rim protectors in the NBA. So much so, his team, the Milwaukee Bucks, signed him to a four-year/$44 million contract. Things did not go as planned. Sanders is not only no longer with the team, he’s not even in the association. Sanders had serious character issues arise when he faced some demons during the 2013-14 season. It all started with a night-club altercation in which he walked away with not only legal citations, but a torn thumb ligament that sidelined him for 25 games. He has since received two suspensions from the league for marijuana use. Sanders had enough, and put himself in treatment. The reasons listed were anxiety, depression and mood disorders. He walked away from the league, but made it clear that he planned on returning to the game if the opportunity presented itself. One year later, Sanders could have an opportunity to help a Hawks team that needs a serious boost to get back to the Eastern Conference Finals.
If Sanders is ready, Atlanta could be an ideal situation for the big man. The team has dealt with drug-related issues with Mike Scott, but he has emerged as a bright spot on our bench this season, and has been far from a problem. The team also just lost Tiago Splitter for the remainder of the season due to a hip injury that has bugged him all season. While the team has young, internal options in Mike Muscala and Edy Tavares, “Moose” is prone to foul trouble and Tavares is a very raw prospect. If the Hawks were to go into a playoff series today against a rim-protecting big man, they would pretty much be screwed. Al Horford is a great player, but at the end of the day his skillset is better suited for power forward. He does not have the physicality down low to dominate on the boards, which has been Atlanta’s achilles heel in recent seasons. Sanders could serve in a role similar to the one in which Tiago Splitter held to this point, and could be the rim protector they have so desperately needed.
Horford is also a free agent, and if he walks after the 2015-16 campaign, Sanders would at the very least offer a nice back-up plan. People will say he’s not a “good fit” for Coach Bud’s system because he does not possess the range Horford has, but Horford playing more of a perimeter game is a big reason why the Hawks have struggled to get boards. Take this into account: the Hawks rank as the 4th best defensive team in the NBA. Could they be an elite team if they had a true rim protector? They are also in the middle-tier of the league in offensive rating. If they actually could get an offensive rebound every once in a while, couldn’t they get more looks? Here’s the statistic that will leave Hawks fans in tears. The Hawks are 28th in rebounding. The problem with this team is so obvious, and it must be addressed. Though many are quick to write off the Hawks after their recent skid, the state if the East is ever so weak and they still have a shot to compete in the postseason if they can click between now and April.
Sanders is still just 27 years-old, and has the potential to be one of the best big men to come off the bench in the NBA. It’s all about the right opportunity, and being in a small market like Atlanta and playing in a refined system could be an ideal situation to help him adapt back into the league. The team needs an answer for the likes of Hassan Whiteside and Tristan Thompson on the boards come playoff time, and unfortunately they are not going to be able to solve this issue internally. It’s time for Coach Bud to take a risk and make a move. If treatment has served Sanders well, there’s absolutely no reason for a team not to give a player of his caliber a second chance. Hopefully that team will be the Atlanta Hawks.