Bucks’ Larry Sanders not thrilled with reduced role under coach Drew

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This summer the Milwaukee Bucks opened up their checkbooks to make Larry Sanders a franchise cornerstone — a four-year, $44 million contract extension. He’s a budding young defensive big man, a guy who can protect the rim or guard in space on the pick-and-roll.

But he’s finding it hard to do that from the bench this season.

New Bucks coach Larry Drew is playing Sanders about 17 minutes a night so far and Zaza Pachulia about 26. Drew and Pachulia go back to Atlanta and so he knows the offense and is more fluid than Sanders, who is struggling some in the new system. Sill, you know this minute distribution is not what the Bucks front office had in mind.

Sanders is none to thrilled about the demotion either, particularly that he is on the bench with the game on the line at the end, he told Steve Aschburner of NBA.com.

“I feel like I’m capable of being in the game at the end and helping my team win, coming up with blocks and rebounds,” Sanders told NBA.com before exiting the locker room swiftly. “I haven’t been able to get my rhythm out there. I understand foul trouble situations, but tonight I wasn’t in foul trouble.

“Last year I finished so many games. I feel like that’s when I lock in the most. But I haven’t been able to get in the game to finish. That carries over to the next game. When you sit the last three quarters of each game, I can’t have no carryover. And it’s hard for me. I’m still a young player. It’s only my eighth year playing basketball.”

Drew is clearly going for “win now” over “build for the future.” As noted by our own D.J. Foster this morning in the Extra Pass, Drew also is playing Gary Neal more minutes (27) than Ersan Ilyasova (22), and Krhis Middleton is very close in run to John Henson.

If you’re the Bucks and the picture is really the long term, aren’t you playing the youngsters and letting them learn on the fly, even if it costs you a little now? Honestly, what is the point to heavy Pachulia minutes? “Maybe we can be the 7 or 8 seed and get smoked in the first round if we play these veterans more.” Is that really the smart long-term strategy?

It’s just a week, we’ll see how things shake out, but things could get interesting in Milwaukee.