Needless to say, Larry Sanders’ 2013-14 season has not gone as planned.
After signing a four-year, $44 million extension this summer, the big man played (sparingly) in just three games before tearing a ligament in his thumb during a violent, champagne tossing incident at a Milwaukee night club. In that trio of games, Sanders averaged more fouls (3.0) than points (2.7) while grabbing just 3.7 rebounds and shooting 25 percent from the field. Granted, he played fewer than 20 minutes in two of the contests and attempted just 16 shots, but the Sanders we saw looked like a shadow of the elite rim protector of last season.
Sanders’ absence has spanned 25 games and nearly two months, but he made his return to the practice court Thursday and Larry Drew said there is “no doubt” he will play Friday in Brooklyn.
“He was really good today. The energy, he was real bouncy,” Larry Drew said. “Defensively he was very active and energized.”
Drew indicated he’s yet to configure Friday’s starting lineup, but it’s possible we could see a fairly major shakeup. Not only is Sanders expected to be back, but Ersan Ilyasova, who was “shut down” due to ankle issues, also practiced Thursday in hopes of playing against the Nets. Ilyasova sat out the past three games in an effort to rest his ailing right ankle, bringing his season tally of missed games to 10.
Sanders will undoubtedly return to the starting lineup at some point, though Drew could opt to bring him off the bench for a few games while he readjusts. Ilyasova’s role, however, remains up in the air. The unquestioned starter at power forward to begin the season, Ilyasova came off the bench in his latest eight-game stint before hitting the shelf. In the meantime, John Henson strung together a series of impressive performances, including a 25-point, 14-rebound, six-block onslaught in a Dec. 10 win over Chicago. At this point it will be difficult to relegate Henson back to a bench role, and a Sanders-Henson starting frontcourt is certainly something the coaching staff will consider.
Brandon Knight’s strong play of late has solidified him as the permanent starter at point guard, but the shooting guard and small forward spots will likely still be decided on a nightly basis. Despite his struggles, one has to believe O.J. Mayo will return to the starting lineup at some point, though the team clearly prefers to play Giannis Antetokounmpo at shooting guard, rather than small forward. Still, it’s difficult to imagine Drew won’t give the enticingly long Sanders-Henson-Antetkoumpo frontcourt a look at some point.
In other, totally unrelated news, Caron Butler is apparently just as excited as the rest of Wisconsin to hear that Aaron Rodgers will return to start Sunday’s NFC North-deciding game in Chicago: