In mid-March, the Bucks said Larry Sanders would miss the rest of the season due to a broke eye socket.
After the drug test – nay, because of the drug test – the Bucks cleared Sanders to play.
When Sanders was suspended, it was presumed he’d serve the penalty during the first five games of next season. The clock doesn’t start until a player is active.
But the Bucks want Sanders to serve the suspension this season, while they’re headed toward the No. 1 seed in the lottery. Next season, when there’s at least a chance they can make the playoffs, they’d rather have Sanders available.
Of course, this confirms the Bucks aren’t as interested in winning this season. (Call that tanking if you wish. I would.) Otherwise, they’d have Sanders available as soon as he were healthy enough to play. Even in a miserable season, he tops the end-of-bench alternative.
So, how did Milwaukee get away with this switcheroo?
It turns out there’s a process by which players are physically cleared to play by the team and an independent league-appointed doctor before suspensions can be served. What happened in this case, according to a league official: the Bucks’ team doctor cleared Sanders, and sent his evaluation to the NBA. League officials reviewed and accepted the team doctor’s conclusion. Then an independent physician contracted by the league examined Sanders and confirmed the team doctor’s conclusion that Sanders is physically able to play.
After all of that, the NBA agreed that Sanders could be activated and begin serving his suspension.
Sanders began serving his suspension against the Pacers last night, and with four more Milwaukee games remaining this season, he’ll be in the clear next season.
It’s really a win for all parties.
The Bucks get a contributor when they want him to help them win, not while they’re competing for better lottery odds.
By serving his suspension this season – while he’s still on his rookie contract and before his four-year, $44 million extension kicks in – Sanders will forfeit just $138,789 in salary. Next season, it would have been $500,000. That’s a cool $361,211 staying in Sanders’ pocket.
And the league avoids harshly enforcing what increasingly seems like an antiquated penalty for using a substance now legalized in two states (and probably more soon). Sanders wasn’t playing again this season, so he wasn’t risking harming his team, either – except as it applies to this rule.
Which, it turns out, isn’t as strict as it appeared.