CLEVELAND (AP) Larry Sanders’ long journey back to the court could lead him to a championship.
Sanders, who hasn’t played in the NBA in two years, signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday and is ready to help his new team defend its title.
“I’m ecstatic,” he said. “Playing with these guys, it’s a great group of guys, a great organization. I’ll give my all out there and hopefully contribute to a winner.”
Sanders’ contract was bought out by the Milwaukee Bucks in February 2015 after a suspension for marijuana use and his apparent lack of commitment to professional basketball.
Sanders said before a game Tuesday night against Detroit that being away from basketball helped him mature and gave him time “to focus on myself. I relied on my family. I feel confident coming back to the game.”
LeBron James encouraged the Cavaliers to sign the 28-year-old Sanders, who averaged 6.5 points and 5.8 rebounds in five seasons with Milwaukee.
“It means a lot coming from him to have faith in me,” Sanders said.
Cleveland has been searching for frontcourt depth all season. The defending NBA champions signed Andrew Bogut, but he broke his left tibia 58 seconds into his first game last week and was waived to make room for Sanders, a 6-foot-11 forward/center.
Cleveland general manager David Griffin said Sanders will probably spend two weeks on and off with Canton of the NBA Development League to work on his conditioning and adjust to playing again.
Sanders is expected to play with Canton on Saturday and remain with the Charge during the Cavaliers’ upcoming road trip.
“Larry was somebody we would have brought in even with Andrew because he’s somebody we look at as more of a long-term play,” Griffin said. “This just created that opportunity in that way instead of doing it in addition to Andrew. It all came together for us pretty well.”
Griffin thinks Sanders fits in well with the Cavaliers.
“We were blessed that we have a veteran team and leadership in the locker room that is excited about the opportunity as well,” he said.
The Cavaliers have been dealing with injuries most of the season. Kevin Love, who had knee surgery last month, could return during the team’s road trip. Kyle Korver is out with a sore left foot and J.R. Smith returned last week from a broken right thumb.