Posts Tagged ‘Larry Drew’

Bucks’ Drew stays classy on way out


VIDEO: GameTime: Kidd to Milwaukee

Given what was done and how it happened, Larry Drew – freshly minted former head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks – would be within his rights to take a few parting shots at the team’s co-owners who abruptly fired him and the fellow who lobbied for Drew’s job while his warm rump still was in the seat.

It surely would feel good, after the wringer through which he was put in a span of 72 hours last weekend, to vent in the direction of Marc Lasry and Wes Edens, the co-owners, and Jason Kidd, the Bucks’ new coach thanks to his friendship with Lasry.

Of course, that might somehow gum up the delivery of the checks Drew will continue to receive — $5 million due to him for the final two years of his coaching contract. Here at Hang Time HQ, we know fired head coaches who wound up inviting the mailmen to their daughters’ weddings, based on the friendships they struck up loitering by the mailbox each month, awaiting the checks owed them. Nothing to gain in making those a day late or a dollar short.

The fact is, Drew handled the ham-handed firing-and-hiring with the same grace he showed in enduring the Bucks’ 15-67 plunge to the NBA’s basement last season. Milwaukee swapped its “Fear The Dear” bumper stickers from a few years back for a “We Don’t Tank But We Sure Do Stank” motto en route to another seat at the lottery.

Sure, he was the coach, but injuries, flaws in a roster with 11 new faces, underperformances by the likes of O.J. Mayo, Gary Neal and Ersan Ilyasova, and Larry Sanders’ misdeeds conspired to drag down Milwaukee’s results. Besides, a few more victories would have cost the Bucks the No. 2 spot and thus Jabari Parker, their ready-to-go cornerstone draftee.

Anyway, Drew issued a statement through the Bucks Thursday and kept it classy:

THANK YOU MILWAUKEE

“I would like to thank Senator Herb Kohl and [general manager] John Hammond for giving me the opportunity to coach the Milwaukee Bucks this past season. Although my tenure was brief, it will forever be memorable.

“Thank you to all of the great Bucks fans for your love and support, you truly are some of the best fans in the NBA.

“My swift termination did come as a surprise to me, but I accept new owners Wesley Edens’ and Marc Lasry’s decision that they’ve made. I wish the entire Bucks organization and the great city of Milwaukee nothing but the best in the future.”

Hang time podcast (episode 167) featuring Kristen Ledlow


VIDEO: Jason Kidd is introduced as the new coach of the Milwaukee Bucks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Since when do coaching changes, unorthodox coaching changes like the one that impacts both the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks, trump the start of free agency?

Since Jason Kidd showed up in the coaching ranks and turned things upside down.

It takes some serious star power, or some absolutely drama-filled action, to knock LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, the World Cup and all the other free agents out of the headlines, even for a few hours. But Kidd did it with his escape to Milwaukee after a failed power play in Brooklyn.

We examine the Kidd fit in Milwaukee, free agency, where Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers fit into this summer, Kevin Love, #NBA Style and so much more on Episode 167 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring NBA TV’s Kristen Ledlow.

We also made sure to track down our main man Rick Fox this week. He called in from the other side of the world (he’s on location in South Africa), so we’re going to need to collect donations to pay his cell phone bill. Thanks!

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

Blogtable: Jason Kidd is in Milwaukee

Jason Kidd joins a team that won only 15 games last season (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Jason Kidd joins a team that won only 15 games last season. (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: The Carmelo Sweepstakes | The steal of free agency | Jason Kidd: Discuss


> Is Jason Kidd the right man for the job in Milwaukee? Anything else you want to say about how this whole Kidd-to-Bucks thing went down?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’ve been out front and outspoken on this topic already, so I’ll try not to repeat any previous harangue. When Kidd was hired by Brooklyn last year, my thought was: Interesting choice but he needs to take over a rebuilding team so he can learn and grow as a coach along with his players. The win-now, veteran-heavy Nets roster seemed like (and mostly was) a mismatch. So if Kidd had been fired, oh, last December when Brooklyn was losing and got hired by Milwaukee now — sometime after Larry Drew‘s firing — it would have seemed legit. But then, he wouldn’t have tipped his hand in craving personnel power — a privilege completely unearned at this point — or in relying so much on “buddy ball” with his wealthy pal, Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry. One more thing: Letting a coach weasel out of a four-year contract after one season to switch teams and double his pay is something the players and their union might want to bring up to the NBA owners at the next CBA talks in 2017.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It was one thing to have Kidd trade in his jersey for a suit jacket and stand on the sidelines running a team packed with veterans and led by a couple of future Hall of Famers.  Now the Bucks are asking him to roll up his sleeves and go to work with a 15-win club.  No.  I believe that job takes more of a coaching background and resume. In addition, Kidd is a guy who always creates turmoil and heads for the door at the first sign of trouble. No reason to think he’s got the stomach or the know-how for this long-term job. As our man Steve Aschburner wrote, Kidd and the new owners ham-handedly handled the whole situation. Replace Larry Drew?  Fine.  But you do it with a whole lot more class.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Who knows if Jason Kidd’s the right man for the job in Milwaukee? Which coach was the last right man there? George Karl? Don Nelson? I’ll give Kidd this, he managed to get the Nets turned around after that clueless start. But we’ll see what kind of patience he has with a young team that needs a teacher. As for how the whole situation went down, I have one word — despicable.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The big picture is that we just learned a lot about how the new Bucks ownership intends to conduct business. It’s not a good lesson, of course. Beyond the obvious that Kidd and Marc Lasry just gave a clinic on how not to handle the situation, beyond the fact that Larry Drew and John Hammond are two of the classiest people in the league and deserved professionalism and honesty instead of this back-door play, Lasry gave away his honeymoon in Milwaukee and gave away his credibility to get someone who would have been a questionable hire under the most basic circumstances. Underhanded and arrogant — making a basketball decision without input from your basketball people — never looks good. Underhanded and arrogant to get a coach with one season of experience and position him to run personnel looks even worse. So, no, I really don’t have anything else to say.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Once the Nets found their identity in January, Kidd did a nice job of managing his rotation and getting contributions from everybody, while keeping his vets relatively fresh. He made the most of his team’s matchup advantages in the playoffs against both Toronto and Miami. He’s a basketball savant. But what happened in Brooklyn is the latest evidence that he’s just not a good person. And the most important aspect of a coach’s success is the talent he has on the roster. The Bucks are lacking in that department.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: He could be the right man for the job, but the way this was handled makes it extremely difficult to have anything but a sour taste in your mouth about Kidd and his future in Milwaukee or anywhere else. I’m going to avoid the moral soapbox and refrain from cracking Kidd or the Bucks for doing what they have done. This is the NBA. No one goes in thinking it’s going to be all roses and lollipops. Larry Drew, as low down as he was treated by both the Bucks and ultimately Kidd, will survive this. The Bucks will even shed this drama in time. Kidd’s reputation, however, might never recover.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Perhaps it came out when I was watching the Money In The Bank pay-per-view the other night, but somehow I missed the memo where Larry Drew isn’t a good coach. I enjoyed watching his Hawks teams, who utilized a balanced offense and went to the playoffs three consecutive seasons. Drew also was terrific drawing up back-picks and slip-screen plays in last minute situations; Drew was no fan of Hero Ball. I think Jason Kidd is also a very good coach, and he improved as the season went along with the Nets, and he’s a bigger “name” than Larry Drew. So that’s all great. Maybe the way this situation shook out wasn’t handled as cleanly as it could’ve/should’ve been, but it is what it is. Either way, I’d like to have seen Kidd win more than 15 games last season in Milwaukee with that roster.

2014 Free Agent Fever!


VIDEO: Courting the King has become the most important cause of the free agent summer for many teams

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The identification, pursuit and securing of the right free agent at the right time can change the destiny of a franchise, when done right.

LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Kyle Lowry, Luol Deng and many others could be the players that help some franchise change its destiny (James, Bosh and Wade have already done so with the Miami Heat four years ago).

We’ll find out just after midnight, when the NBA’s free agent circus begins, where some of these guys are headed. Will the Heat’s Big 3 stick around? Will Anthony or Lowry join them?

It all comes into focus now (and no, the drama kicked off well before 12:01 a.m.) …

***

Choices for the Butler, 9:05 a.m.

LaLa wants Melo in New York, 8:44 a.m.

Jameer Nelson an option in Miami, 8:30 a.m.

A cap increase is neded, 8:23 a.m.

Chibbs Says … LeBron stays put, 8:10 a.m.

#SpursWay, 7:57 a.m.

Everything in Brooklyn is gonna be fine, 7:31 a.m.

Brett Yormark, the Nets’ CEO, says so!

Noah (and Rose?) to recruit ‘Melo in Chicago, 6:30 a.m.

Parsons, Lowry, Deng get plenty of interest, 4 a.m.

Blazers interested in Monroe, 3:40 a.m.

Pau gets plenty of calls, 3 a.m.

Cavs lock up Kyrie Irving with max extension, 1:49 a.m.

A point guard for LeBron?, 1:46 a.m.

Blazers meet with Spencer Hawes, 1:24 a.m. 

Hill not necessarily leaving LA, 1:17 a.m.

Deng emerging as crowd favorite, 1:16 a.m.

This should surprise no one. Deng is arguably the most underrated free agent on the market this summer. (more…)

Milwaukee owners owe apologies for sorry tactics in Kidd’s hiring


VIDEO: Bucks bring Jason Kidd on board as its next head coach

The first thing Marc Lasry is going to have to do is apologize.

Apologize, not for his actual hiring of Jason Kidd to be the Milwaukee Bucks’ new head coach – though that might be in order soon enough, based on the NBA’s time-honored W-L standards – but for the manner in which he did it.

That is to say, the abrupt, secretive and unprofessional way Lasry, one of the team’s new co-owners, went courting his buddy Kidd, trampling all over business etiquette and even ethics by filling one job that wasn’t vacant and throwing several more held by longtime respected basketball executives into immediate limbo.

Lasry, who bought the Bucks this spring with hedge-fund partner Wesley Edens, already has apologized to Larry Drew, NBA sources confirmed, for the public undercutting that played out over about 48 hours. Actually the process took a little longer: Drew was in the Bucks’ war room on Draft night Thursday in suburban Milwaukee while Lasry and Edens were at the event at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Drew was at No. 2 pick Jabari Parker‘s introductory news conference Friday while the owners clandestinely interviewed Kidd in New York. The ham-handed maneuver leaked out Saturday and finally, on Monday, the Bucks and the Nets agreed on compensation in the form of two future second-round draft picks.

Drew still has about $5 million coming over the next two seasons, which could soothe bruised feelings from rude treatment for a lot of us. Still, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do things, and Lasry, the point man on the hire, botched this badly. He rewarded Kidd for all the wrong reasons – the former All-Star point guard wanted more money and power within the Nets organization but got rebuffed, so he turned to his former financial adviser with the shiny new team – and he violated an unwritten code against hiring before firing by which even sports’ most ruthless power brokers abide.

Lasry might claim ignorance on that, being new to this fish bowl, but then Kidd should have informed him. Frankly, Kidd owes Drew an apology too because crossing the informal but well-understood line among coaches.

Lasry needs to come with some fat, sincere mea culpas to Bucks general John Hammond and front-office execs David Morway, Dave Babcock and Billy McKinney. They all might find it harder to work this season, constantly glancing over their shoulders, than it was enduring last season’s 15-67.

Contract extensions, along with the apologies, might help. You say Kidd has been hired only as the head coach? That’s what the Nets thought they were doing 12 months ago, and look where we are.

For all we know, plans already are in place for a more complete coup. But it would be nice if Kidd – looking like a me-first person after a Hall of Fame-worthy career as a pass-first point guard – proved for a couple more seasons that he can do one job well before grabbing at a cpuple more. Ditto for staying out of trouble in the domestic abuse and DUI categories. (It’s between him and his bosses, meanwhile, whether he gets an escalator clause in his contract guaranteeing him a raise every time some other team hires an ex-point guard as a coach.)

Parker probably is good without an apology. The forward from Duke and Chicago native has been so gracious and humble since the Bucks selected him that he’ll no doubt let Lasry off the hook for squashing the excitement of his arrival, the franchise’s giddiest point since the spring of 2010’s “Fear The Deer” playoff run.

But Lasry and Edens should reserve their biggest, gooiest admissions of wrongdoing for Bucks/NBA fans in Milwaukee. As much as the two private-equity billionaires have done in securing the team in the community – purchasing it for a price ($550 million) that’s whopping by anyone’s but Steve Ballmer‘s standards and moving ahead with new arena plans – this was a stylistic faux pas of the highest order.

And hopefully, only that. If this is indicative of the way the co-owners plan to operate going forward – pushing into basketball decisions simply because they can – the Bucks likely are headed sideways more than up. That’s been proven time and again as owners across all sports try and fail to replicate the George Steinbrenner model.

The Bucks are Lasry’s and Edens’ toy. They can do what they want. No one questions the chain of command. But this isn’t a board room, executive suite or trading floor, the venues where they amassed their fortunes. There’s a huge public trust and ownership involved, from season-ticket holders in VIP seats and the folks who dig deep to attend one Bradley Center game each season to the lowliest concessions worker. Milwaukee mixes in a little bit of paranoia, too, and simple expectations.

The fans deserve to know, in making their Bucks buy decisions, whether this is going to be standard operating procedure for two exuberant owners, or a hard lesson learned that won’t soon be repeated.

A few “I’m sorry” remarks delivered in a sincere, timely and public fashion – perhaps at Kidd’s introductory presser in the coming days – could smooth this over, along with some time and a sense that Kidd is focused on coaching rather than career-climbing.

Otherwise, the Bucks situation simply will remain sorry.

Reports: Bucks land Kidd as coach

From NBA.com staff reports

The story that took the NBA by surprise over the weekend — Brooklyn Nets coach Jason Kidd working his way into an interview for a job with the Milwaukee Bucks — is seemingly a done deal. Kidd, who tried to power his way into the Nets’ GM gig, only to be rebuffed by team ownership, will become the Bucks’ new coach. As part of the deal, the Bucks will send the Nets two future second-round picks (2015 and ’19).

He will replace last season’s coach, Larry Drew, who went 15-67 in his first season in Milwaukee and has two seasons left on his current deal.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein first tweeted the news of the deal, and other outlets followed suit via Twitter (see below).

Stein, Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, CBSSports.com’s Ken Berger and Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel all have fully detailed reports on the move as well.

https://twitter.com/HowardBeck/status/483628510318063617 (more…)

Bucks risk vibe, goodwill reset with Kidd


VIDEO: Draft review: Jabari Parker’s potential impact

Jabari Parker should ask the Milwaukee Bucks for a trade. Today.

If it’s buzz kill the Bucks want, that’d give them buzz kill. Why stop at the reports of buddy ball about to be played between new co-owner Marc Lasry and Jason Kidd, the Brooklyn Nets’ soon-to-be former head coach angling for power and money atop the Milwaukee team’s food chain? Go straight to Parker and remind him that, in the business of the NBA, things he talks about such as loyalty, humility and gratitude are but a rube’s game.

Then the classy kid taken No. 2 Thursday in the Draft, the franchise’s latest and greatest hope, can appropriately approach his livelihood with the necessary cynicism, ruthlessness and selfishness.

You know, like the unclassy Kidd.

Bad enough that Kidd, after one middling season as the Nets head coach, would attempt a power play within that organization to grab more authority – and allegedly a sweetened contract from the four-year deal he signed just 12 months ago – over the man (general manager Billy King) who hired him. The New York Post was first among several outlets reporting Kidd’s Machiavellian maneuver Saturday, a coup apparently snuffed by Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov.

Worse, though, is that Lasry – the private-equity billionaire described as a “past financial partner” with Kidd, possibly as an advisor – would entertain installing Kidd as the Bucks’ president of basketball operations. That’s the lofty position for which Milwaukee apparently has sought permission to interview him. Talk of compensation (second-round draft pick?) already is in play, should Brooklyn release Kidd from the final two years of his deal.

It is a bad idea on so many levels.

First, the Bucks are full-up, their front office and coaching jobs staffed by highly competent individuals. GM John Hammond is fresh off his most rewarding Draft night ever, on the heels of a stellar 2013 move in drafting below-the-radar phenom Giannis Antetokounmpo and second-round point guard Nate Wolters. And lest Lasry or anyone else think that the Bucks merely did the no-brain thing Thursday – grabbing the best available player once Andrew Wiggins went to Cleveland – he’d be overlooking the rapport Parker already seems to have with Hammond, coach Larry Drew and their staffs, seeded in pre-draft workouts and conversations and growing toward a bond.

As for Drew, he’s a proven head coach – more proven than Kidd – after three playoff appearances in Atlanta (with smaller payrolls and less talent than Kidd’s Nets) and his grace under fire during last season’s 15-67 tanking mission.

B-b-b-but Kidd only wants to be Hammond’s and Drew’s boss? Right. Kidd wants what he wants when he wants it. He is a Hall of Fame-bound point guard with one spotty season as a coach, zero experience as an executive and chronicled flaws in his people skills. It requires no great leaps to imagine Kidd blowing out both Hammond and Drew in short order – which would be wrong even if his name were Jason Popovich.

[UPDATE, 6/30: Multiple outlets, including the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, reported later Sunday that the Bucks were talking with Kidd only about coming in as head coach. Again, Milwaukee already has a head coach, so dangling his job while he's still in it is horrible management form for Lasry -- while interviewing for it is a serious breach by Kidd of the NBA's unwritten "coaches' code." Also: Kidd was hired "only" as a coach 12 months ago. That didn't stop his power grab in Brooklyn, did it?]

The New York- and New Jersey-based media accounts of Kidd’s attempted power play within the Nets were rife with tales of Kidd’s clubhouse lawyering, coach undercutting and ego-driven antics, both in his playing days and since. Last season, after pushing for veteran coach Lawrence Frank to be hired at big money as his right-hand man, Kidd turned on Frank early in the season and got him banished from the bench.

The antithesis off the court, it seems, of the pass-first playmaker he was on the court, Kidd also has a domestic abuse charge on his resume and a guilty plea to drunk driving, hiccups that – for all of Wisconsin’s taverns – aren’t dismissed as easily in a smaller, image-conscious market such as Milwaukee.

Then there’s this bonus of a bad reason: Kidd reportedly grew envious of the bigger coaching paychecks of fellow former NBA point guards Steve Kerr and Derek Fisher, similar newbies to the sidelines who signed five-year, $25 million deals recently with Golden State and New York respectively. Heck, in an offseason of coach/owner madness – Tyronne Lue as the highest paid assistant in league history, management titles spliced on almost perfunctorily – it’s feasible that Kidd grabbed at the Nets’ personnel reins with the intent of having things blow up. Then he could shake free to link up with Lasry.

Unfortunately, Lasry and his partner Wesley Edens were at the Draft in Brooklyn Thursday night, not in St. Francis, Wis., at the Bucks headquarters or down on the Lake Michigan lakefront for the team’s fan party. The co-owners missed out on the vibe that carried the night and that Milwaukee so desperately needed. With Parker’s selection and his appreciative reaction, the Bucks hit a good team/good guy reset button, a shared sense of renewal that runs from the front office to the newest, most special rookie.

They’re now at risk of turning the franchise into Kidd’s private ATM and personal preening mirror. Parker hasn’t scored a point or swiped a pass, but already he deserves better.

Report: Kidd loses power play in Brooklyn, free to talk with Bucks

After being denied a promotion by the Nets, Jason Kidd was granted permission to talk to the Bucks.

After being denied a promotion by the Nets, Jason Kidd was granted permission to talk to the Bucks.

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Jason Kidd‘s run as coach in Brooklyn could soon be over after just one season, courtesy of his own ambition.

Kidd was denied a promotion with the Nets and, in the wake of that failed attempt to increase his power to include personnel decisions, was granted permission to discuss future employment with the Milwaukee Bucks, according to a report from Tim Bontemps of the New York Post.

The Bucks, of course, already have a coach in Larry Drew. So it’s unclear exactly which job Kidd is exploring in Milwaukee. Both Kidd and Drew just finished their first seasons, respectively, in their current positions.

Kidd’s reported power play puts him in a precarious position with the Nets, who have loads of other decisions to make, including what to do with Kevin Garnett and the final year of his contract, and might have to add a coaching search to their to-do-list.

If Kidd tried to undercut Nets GM Billy King and failed, he’s almost certainly out of a job in Brooklyn. For this news to break on the eve of free agency makes for an extremely bizarre process as the Nets try to reload for the 2014-15 season.

There’s an excellent chance they’ll do so without the services of Kidd, whose methods, per the Post, were nothing if not bold:

According to a league source, Kidd recently approached ownership with a series of demands, including the role of overseeing the Nets’ basketball operations department in addition to his head coaching responsibilities. The source said Kidd didn’t want general manager Billy King to be dismissed, but wanted to be given a title and placed above him in the organizational hierarchy.

Ownership declined to grant Kidd that kind of power, which is rare for any coach in the league to have. The source said ownership felt Kidd wasn’t ready for that kind of responsibility after having only one year of coaching experience — the team finished his first season on the bench with a 44-38 record, good for sixth in the Eastern Conference — and allowed Kidd to seek other opportunities.

The franchise then was approached by the Bucks to speak with Kidd about the prospect of hiring him, and have done so with the Nets’ permission.

Kidd has a small ownership stake in the Nets, so perhaps he felt he was well within his rights to ask for more power. But someone else within the organization clearly didn’t agree with his way of doing business.

Whatever role the Bucks have played or will play in this process can only be further complicated by them speaking to a coach of an Eastern Conference rival while they already have a coach under contract.

Whatever happens in Milwaukee, it’s clear Kidd’s days are numbered in Brooklyn.

Can’t win two? It’s Larry Drew

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Milwaukee Bucks clinched the league’s worst record on Monday. They’ll go into next month’s Lottery with the best odds at getting the No. 1 pick. They’ll have a 25 percent chance at No. 1 and will have no worse than the No. 4 pick in the June draft.

Though the Philadelphia 76ers tied an NBA record with 26 straight losses between Jan. 31 and March 27, the Bucks managed to stay behind them in the standings.

How did they do it? Well, their longest losing streak of the season was only 11 games, but they never won two in a row. In fact, Monday’s loss in Toronto also clinched a little bit of history for the Bucks.

The Bucks are the third team in NBA history to play an 82-game season without ever winning two straight. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the only two other teams to do it were the 1986-87 Clippers and the 2004-05 Hawks.

Amazingly, those three teams have something in common. His name is Larry Drew.

Drew and Mike Woodson both played for the ’86-87 Clippers. Woodson was the coach and Drew an assistant for the ’04-05 Hawks. And, of course, Drew is the coach of this year’s Bucks.

The 2011-12 Bobcats also failed to win two straight in the lockout-shortened, 66-game season.

Hat tip to Bucksketball’s KL Chouinard for noting the Drew connection.

Milwaukee’s Sanders apologizes, but advocates for medical marijuana use

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Larry Sanders takes an elbow from the Rockets’ James Harden

CHICAGO – Larry Sanders, the Milwaukee Bucks center whose season has been as miserable due to injuries and off-court incidents as his team’s has been from losing, was suspended Friday for five games without pay for violating the NBA/NBPA anti-drug program.

But if it was up to Sanders, neither he nor any other player in the league would be penalized for smoking marijuana. While he said he would abide by the terms of the penalty, Sanders offered an enthusiastic defense of the drug for its medical benefits.

“It’s something I feel strongly about, just to let you know something personal about me,” the 6-foot-11 player told NBA.com and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel prior to the Bucks’ game against Chicago at United Center Friday. “I will deal with the consequences from it. It’s a banned substance in my league. But I believe in marijuana and the medical side of it.

“I know what it is if I’m going to use it. I study it and I know the benefits it has. In a lot of ways we’ve been deprived. You can’t really label it with so many other drugs that people can be addicted to and have so many negative effects on your body and your family and your relationships and impairment. This is not the same thing.”

Per terms of the league’s illegal substance policy and random testing procedures, Sanders’ suspension means he has failed three tests in his career. It is unclear when his five-game hiatus actually will begin; he has been sidelined since undergoing surgery for a right orbital fracture sustained Feb. 8 against Houston. Recently, Sanders said he was out for the rest of this season and the Bucks had listed him that way in media reports – that would push his suspension into the start of 2014-15.

The team released a statement expressing its disappointment in Sanders, and Bucks coach Larry Drew echoed it Friday evening. He said that losing Sanders at the start of next season, when the player and the team might have hoped for a clean slate, would be difficult.

“Sure it would be tough. He’s a guy we count on,” Drew said. “If it does happen to start next year, we’ll just have to deal with it.”

Expectations were high for Saunders as Milwaukee’s defensive anchor. He had been rewarded for his breakout 2012-13 performance (9.8 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 2.8 bpg) with a four-year, $44 million extension that kicks in next year. But he has played only 23 games, averaging 7.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.74 blocks and 25.4 minutes. He gained YouTube.com infamy for his involvement in a Milwaukee nightclub melee hours after playing poorly in the team’s home opener.

He returned in late December but struggled along with the Bucks, who were staking out the NBA’s basement in the standings. Sanders had only five games with 10 or more rebounds and only six with more than two blocked shots before suffering his facial injury in February.

Saunders also issued a statement Friday apologizing to fans and taking responsibility for his actions. He said he didn’t think the suspension, if it comes at the beginning of next season, would mar what he, too, hopes is a fresh start.

“Yeah I could [overcome that],” he said. “The recipe doesn’t change. It’s just more motivation to work harder. It’s something negative to deal with. But the recipe doesn’t change for me. I’m just as excited for the summer.”

Marijuana use, still illegal in the U.S. with the exception of Colorado and Washington, has gained supporters in recent months. Sanders said he understands that it is prohibited by the NBA and the players union, which have talked of strengthening their combined anti-drug program rather than easing it. He apologized for this latest incident’s impact on his teammates but said he does not believe marijuana use is wrong.

“The stigma is that it’s illegal. I hate that,” Sanders said. “Once this becomes legal, this all will go away.”

Sanders said that, in terms of social use, he sees smoking marijuana as similar to drinking alcoholic beverages. But his primary defense of the drug was for medical use.

“The great thing about that idea is that, then you could get prescribed for it and see a doctor and they could tell you,” he said. “You don’t have to self-medicate, you don’t have to over-medicate ourselves. Y’know, because we don’t know now. We can’t diagnose ourselves.

“Once it becomes legal … you sit down with a doctor and [he says], ‘You may need this three times a day. This dosage here.’ And you don’t over-medicate. It [addresses] those needs medically that you need. It’s natural.”

The Bucks said they would have no comment beyond their issued statement (“Larry Sanders has a responsibility to every person in our organization and our fans. We are all disappointed by the news of his suspension.”).

An NBA spokesperson, contacted for reaction to Sanders’ defense of marijuana use, declined to comment Friday night.