After reports surfaced last week that the Bucks and Larry Sanders were nearing a long-term contract extension, a deal became official Tuesday.
Sanders signed a four-year extension that will pay him roughly $44 million over four years, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The extension will kick in for the 2014-15 season, as Sanders still has just over $3 million remaining on his current rookie deal.
While it includes neither a player nor team option, the deal could be worth up to $48 million if Sanders meets specified incentives. The 24-year-old averaged 9.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks last season and finished seventh the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award voting.
The 6-11, 235-pound center took to Instagram to express his excitement toward signing on long-term with the Bucks: “It’s official.. can’t believe I’ve been granted this opportunity to represent Milwaukee for the next 5 years and hopefully the rest of my career,” Sanders wrote.
For Sanders, the extension is the culmination of steady – albeit somewhat unexpected – improvement. As a rookie out of Virginia Commonwealth, he appeared in just 60 games, averaging fewer than five points and three rebounds per game. In his second year, Sanders’ playing time dipped even lower, raising questions about his attitude and future with the team. However, he took a major leap this past season, more than doubling his minutes per game, as well as increasing his scoring, rebounding and blocks numbers.
But the deal may have as much to do with Sanders’ self-expressed desire to be the face of the Bucks franchise as it does his statistical improvement. Amidst a coaching change and a tumultuous offseason that saw both Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis depart, Sanders remained steadfast in his commitment to Milwaukee. As one of the most unappealing markets in the league, franchise players who truly want to be a part of the organization are few and far between.
“Words can not explan my gratitude for the @bucks organization and the faith in me as a leader and a worker,” Sanders continued via the aforementioned Instagram post. “I won’t let you down Mil-town.. see you in the BC!!! #letsgobucks #bucknation #buck4life.”
In terms of value, the deal resembles those signed by fellow-big men DeAndre Jordan (4 years/$43 million), Serge Ibaka (4 years/$49 million) and Javale McGee (4 years, $44 million). It also matches up with the deals Stephen Curry (4 years, $4 million) and Ty Lawson (4 years, $48 million) signed last offseason.
On paper, Sanders may not appear to be as valuable as Curry or Lawson – particularly on the offensive end – but with impact defensive centers at a premium, Milwaukee is thrilled to lock up Sanders through the 2017-18 season.
“By combining his God-given ability with hard work and determination, Larry has developed into one of he top young defensive players in the league,” GM John Hammond said in an issued statement. “He is a very important part of what we are doing in Milwaukee, and we’re excited to announced his contract extension.”
With the deal now in place, it will be up to Sanders to live up to the inevitable expectations that come with signing a lucrative contract. He’ll need to improve on the offensive end and develop a reliable mid-ranger jumper, but the first step is to prove he’s matured past the character issues that flagged him in the past. If he can maintain his composure and continue to be one of the top rim protectors in the league, Milwaukee will have made the right move, as Sanders is still a few years from the prime of his career.