Sanders' Smoke And The Mavs' Trade Fire

This would be a traditionally fitting moment for suspended Bucks center Larry Sanders to apologize for being a pot-addled knucklehead. Instead, he says, 'I believe in marijuana and the medical side of it.' That's the sort of comment that could drive down his value should Milwaukee opt to trade him this summer. Is it the sort of comment that should also drive down Dallas' interest in him?

Back before the trade deadline, documented the Dallas Mavericks' interest in Bucks center Larry Sanders.

That's different than the Bucks being willing to give him away. After all, last summer they knowingly gave him a deal that starting next year pays him $11 million annually for four seasons, a contract that would make him Milwaukee's top-paid player.

He's young (25) and skilled defensively and is -- or was -- developing so quickly that the 6-11 center's upside seems/seemed almost endless.

From a 2012 game against Minnesota:

There was Mavs-related "smoke'' even before there was ... this latest smoke. But contrary to numerous reports, there was almost certainly never going to be a deadline trade because of the structure of his contract. As an extended rookie contract where the extension hasn't begun yet, his deal falls in the "Poison Pill" category, only counting as $3.05 million in outgoing salary in a trade but as $9.41 million incoming to the other team, creating huge trade-matching obstacles and almost no way for the Bucks to receive commensurate pieces back. was very specifically told of the Bucks' unwillingness to deal Sanders ... which of course, if you read between the lines, helps you realize that Dallas did indeed inquire.

And, this summer, will do so again.

At which point one of the questions will be: Does Milwaukee see him as a foundation piece? Or as an unsalvageable knucklehead who in recent months is piling up the off-court issues?

He missed 25 games earlier this season because of an injury sustained in a nightclub altercation. (That was a torn ligament in his thumb that was sustained in the wee hours of the morn following the Bucks' home-opening loss to Toronto.

The surveillance video shows an ugly scene:

A broken orbital bone (sustained in a game, not in a bar) ended his season. And while sidelined, last week he failed a drug test and is now suspended -- a penalty that will be inflicted upon him at the start of next season, when he will miss the first five games of the year.

In addition to all this, in 2013-14 his shooting has gone down, with the free-throw percentage sinking from 62 percent to the worrisome 47 percent, along with notable drops in field-goal percentage, points, rebounds and blocked shots.

He played in 23 games this season (20 starts) and averaged 7.7 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.74 blocks ... hardly the sort of numbers you move salary-cap mountains for.

This is all high-risk/ boom-or-bust stuff for Dallas in a trade. (For what it's worth, we have it on good authority that the Mavs are not scared of the money he's owed.) But it's also high-risk/ boom-or-bust stuff for Milwaukee to keep him.

Especially now that his "problems'' include habitual marijuana use.

I know, I know. Marijuana is not as bad for you as this habit or that habit. But in the NBA, you need to fail three drug tests to get suspended for pot. There is a "program'' for the first failed test, a reported fine of $10,000 fine for the second and the public suspension for failed test No. 3.

At which point, your belief that marijuana should be legal, or should be a non-violation, doesn't interest me. Because what I care most about is that you color within the lines well enough to stay on the floor. (Maybe sleeping through practice should be "accepted,'' too. But it's not. So I'm glad Sam Dalembert quit doing it.)

Not everyone, it seems, fully believes that. Including Sanders, who tells the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

"It's something I feel strongly about, just to let you know something personal about me," Sanders said. "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.

"The stigma is that it's illegal. I hate that. Once this becomes legal, this all will go away. But I understand for my work it's a banned substance. I will deal with the consequences and I apologize again to my fans for that."

Maybe it's worth noting that most Americans agree with Larry Sanders. A recent survey shows 58 percent of us agree with Sanders about the legalization. And Sanders' generation probably agrees even more strongly.

But the Bucks are right when they say, in an official 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 organization with a zero-tolerance policy for pot smoking probably isn't dealing in reality. The issue with Larry Sanders isn't that he smokes dope; it's that he may be a dope.

I assume Larry doesn't want pot to be legalized because he uses it for "medical purposes.'' I assume he wants it to be legalized because he likes it. ... and if that's true, it renders his outspokenness on the subject not "bold'' but "selfish.''

I'll be better from this,'' Sanders said. "I've learned a lot already from this year. I'm going to continue to learn. I hate that this is a negative impact on my fans and my family or the organization."

And I would hate for it to be a negative to the Mavs, too. So they will pursue a Sanders trade in the summer, I am quite certain. And they will hope to be chasing a talent who is being given credit in some circles for being "smart and progressive'' in his thinking but who in reality needs to use those alleged smarts to pass an occasional drug test.

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