Becker: The Larry Sanders-John Henson Issue

Guest contributor Justin Becker presents his opinion on Larry Sanders’ future with the Milwaukee Bucks.

Supposedly Larry Sanders has been sitting for nearly the last week with “flu-like symptoms.” Not even practicing for a week with the flu? Michael Jordan played through games while literally vomiting at half time. There are only three options here: Sanders is way sicker than just the average flu, he is faking being sick because he is unhappy or Coach Drew is making this up to play others extended minutes. Either way, there are bad vibes coming from this situation. It makes me wonder what the future holds for the Milwaukee Bucks.

They have two very talented players at one position. Just a few seasons ago, the Chicago Bulls made this work with Joakim Noah and Omer Asik. Both players bought into the system and the Bulls rode them to the Eastern Conference Finals where they eventually fell victim to the Miami Heat. Mayo has been sitting with the same “symptoms” as Sanders lately, which leads me to believe they are the two leading the charge against Larry Drew. These are the two that buy in least to Larry Drew’s fickle system. He definitely is no Tom Thibodeau. Just take Luol Deng for example. After being traded from the Bulls, he started crying when hugging Coach Thibs when the teams played one another. Players love him. The same is not true for Larry Drew. Lately, his players have been coming out in public saying how brutal his system is. As long as the Bucks are committed to him, however, things will run his way. I think that means bad things for the future of the two big men.

John Henson should be more disgruntled than he has seemed so far this season. He’s played like a solid NBA center yet Drew has only allowed him to stay on the court for 27.7 minutes per game. Switching constantly between the starting lineup and bench, it has been impossible for him to carve out a consistent role. The man hasn’t said a word despite the adversity and has produced this year. In 36 games played (17 started), he has produced 15.7 PPG, 10.6 REB and 2.8 BLK per-36 minutes. Not too shabby especially for a 23 year old. For a team that currently sits in last place, young talent should be their most prized asset. Still, Henson hasn’t played 30+ minutes in nine straight games even though Sanders has missed many of them. Is Henson in their future plans? Why wouldn’t they try and develop him right now? All of these are valid questions and Drew will need to answer them ASAP.

Looming for Henson, of course, is the impending return of Larry Sanders. Just last season, Sanders was the talk of the NBA as he became a solid contributor almost out of nowhere. In 2012-13, only Serge Ibaka (3.0) blocked more shots per game than Sanders. He only played 71 games but still finished tied for 21st in the NBA with 26 double-doubles (and even one triple-double). Sanders shot over 50% so not only was he a double-double machine but he was efficient. Heading into the year, I had him pegged as a guy to target in all fantasy leagues. Could he block 3.0 shots per game? I really thought he could. Also, and very importantly, he is only 25 years old. Why would you move on from what looked like a budding star at that age? Bucks management seemed to agree as they awarded him a four-year, $44 million contract this off-season.

Since then, it seems like Sanders has fallen out of favor. Why? Well, there are a few good reasons behind this train of thought.Sanders was involved in an “incident” earlier this season. Losing patience in a player for that kind of shenanigan is completely reasonable. If you’re not sure what happened, there is video of the incident here. Unfortunately, Sanders started a fight at a nightclub which resulted in a broken hand that cost him more than a month. Even after he returned, he started trouble with his own teammate: Sanders got into an argument with teammate Gary Neal after their Jan. 4 game against the Phoenix Suns. Here is an excerpt from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “Sanders was heard questioning Neal’s attitude. As Neal exited a few minutes later he yelled back, “I earned my money. Why don’t you try it?” Yeah, he has been causing problems.

Focusing on his play on the court may do wonders for Sanders. Not only might his play step back up (6.4 PPG, 6.4 REB and 1.8 BLK) but he may fall back into favor with Coach Drew. Maybe then he can start working on his offensive game (42.1% FG) that has seemingly fallen this season. He wasn’t a great (or good) offensive player from the start and doesn’t provide almost anything in terms of offense in a half court set-up. So all that being said, what is in store for Milwaukee?

I think the Bucks are warming to the idea of getting rid of Sanders. John Henson, in their eyes, is the center of their future. The problem will be trading Sanders’ large contract. Signing that thing seems like it will cost them – or will it? Plenty of teams in the modern NBA are looking for an adequate center. If you find the right situation for him, he could flourish. I just have a feeling that someone would be willing to take him. So do I think the future of the Milwaukee Bucks includes both Larry Sanders and John Henson? In a word: no. Henson is younger with fewer issues. Clearly the Bucks have plenty of holes to fill on the team being last in the East (.182 win percentage) and all. If I owned one in a dynasty, I would want Henson considering he has a more well rounded game. Also, the Bucks aren’t going to keep both of them around because eventually Henson will require his own large contract. Maybe Sanders stays through the end of this season, and maybe next, but I doubt he is in their long-term plans. He is too much of a hassle for a young team and the Coach doesn’t like/want him. That usually is a one-way ticket out of town. Invest in Henson but Sanders too may end up in a solid fantasy situation. Hold him too because you could have a nice two-headed fantasy monster moving forward. Eventually staring at Larry Sanders’ name on your fantasy roster won’t result in you too developing “flu-like symptoms.”

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