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Larry Sanders‘ saga has had so many twists and turns in his four-plus NBA seasons, it’s hard to know whether his latest violation of the league’s anti-drug policy is at the root of his extended absence from the Milwaukee Bucks, or in addition to it.
Sanders, who has been on leave from the Bucks since before Christmas, was suspended Friday by the NBA without pay for a minimum of 10 games for again violating the terms of the NBA/NBPA drug program.
Sanders’ suspension will begin Monday, with the Bucks’ next scheduled game vs. Toronto at BMO Harris Bradley Center, and “will continue until he is in full compliance with his treatment program,” the league announcement read.
Sanders already has missed 11 games, with the Bucks first listing “illness,” followed by “personal reasons,” for his absence. He last played before Christmas, getting five points and eight rebounds in Milwaukee’s loss to Charlotte Dec. 23. He had averaged 7.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 27 appearances this season, the first in a four-year, $44 million contract.
When Sanders’ absence stretched beyond the few days typically required for illness and Milwaukee coach Jason Kidd stayed vague on the 6-foot-11 center’s situation, rumors spread that he might have lost interest in basketball in general or the Bucks in particular. Sanders’ track record of technical fouls, locker room altercations and off-court incidents gave weight to just about any and all concerns.
But the fifth-year player did show up to watch, in street clothes from the bench, Milwaukee’s home game against Phoenix Jan. 6. And in comments to reporters afterward, he seemed closer to rather than further from a return, with no known indication of an anti-drug policy violation.
Sanders used the words “my psyche and my physical health” in talking about unreadiness to play for the Bucks. Team president Peter Feigin had expressed the organization’s “1,000 percent” support. Feigin told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel it wanted to “surround players with the best medical, psychological, emotional and physical support we can possibly have. When Larry’s ready, he’ll be ready.”
Sanders did not travel with the Bucks to Chicago Saturday or to London Monday for their game Thursday against New York.
Under the terms of the anti-drug policy agreed to by the Board of Governors and the players’ union, suspensions typically begin with the first game an injured player is available for action. For instance, when Sanders incurred his “third strike” of the policy last spring to earn a five-game suspension – taking the occasion to talk up the benefits of medical marijuana use – he first had to officially be cleared to play, having been ruled out for the season in March with a fractured bone near his right eye.
The Bucks revisited that prognosis, and Sanders was able to sit out the final five games last season – which he would have missed anyway and which were docked at the per-game rate from a $3 million salary, not $11 million.
There had been no sense, however, that Sanders was expected back in uniform for Monday’s game against the Raptors. Now he definitely won’t be, with his earliest possible return on Feb. 7 when Milwaukee plays host to Boston.