Interesting Mailbag question today...
You said [in a previous mailbag] that the Blazers might sign a player other teams have cut. You talked about Larry Sanders. Really? I mean would you go for Sanders if available even with all the problems he's had?
Here's a qualified "yes" answer in three parts.
1. We don't know the full extent of Larry Sanders' problems yet.
We know he's been suspended for failing drug tests and his passion for playing basketball has been questioned. Those are serious issues, normally the kind you'd stay away from. There's enough wiggle room in the explanation to ask twice, though.
If Sanders' drug issues extend to "hard" drugs or P.E.D.'s, steering clear is the only way to go. People deserve second chances, even third or fourth sometimes. But those are best given once recovery is complete. The NBA is a horrible place to rehab while working. (Or to try to find your way after swearing off the P.E.D.'s that used to make you a star.)
But if Sanders' drug violations are limited to certain herbs which are now legal in Oregon, more thought is required...if only because half of his prospective teammates could be similarly engaged and we'd never know about it. In this case Sanders' lack of discretion would be an issue, but that can be learned.
Lack of motivation is a big deal as well. Normally players don't recover from that. You wouldn't expect miracles signing Sanders under those circumstances. Environment can influence attitude, though. If the Blazers perceived any chance of that happening, Sanders should be on a hot list somewhere.
Even if the Blazers only got 20 minutes per night of decent defense and an insurance policy against big-man injuries, signing Sanders would be worth it. Chris Kaman and Meyers Leonard have offensive chops, but as we saw against Memphis last night the defensive well runs dry quickly once Portland's starters check out. Joel Freeland is serviceable...a fine insurance policy against Sanders not working out! But you've already got your nice, dependable, hard-working back-up in Joel. If you think there's any chance of reforming a potentially elite player, why not take it? When he's right, Sanders is a monster, a game-changer with huge potential. The Blazers are going to have a hard time scaring up that kind of prospect any other way, especially at the center position.
2. The Cost Is Negligible
Now that the Blazers have opened up a roster spot, there's no cost to signing Sanders beyond the zeroes you put on his veteran-minimum contract. It'd amount to less than half a mil for the remainder of the season. If you extended the contract another year that'd be a little over a million more. That wouldn't affect Portland's cap (present or future) nearly as much as the Arron Afflalo trade did. Neither would it take the Blazers near luxury tax territory.
If Sanders turned out to be a Grade A poopy-head, the instant he showed an appreciable negative effect on his teammates the Blazers could cut him without penalty or remorse. (Besides having to pay the rest of his minimum contract, that is.) If that happened a week after he arrived, no harm. Experiment over.
Some will cite social cost. In recent years Neil Olshey has expressed concern over team chemistry and bad seeds influencing young players the wrong way. With Will Barton and Thomas Robinson off to Denver the team isn't that young anymore. Who remains to be influenced negatively? Portland's players under 25 are Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Meyers Leonard, and Allen Crabbe.
Lillard's a media superstar. He's been exposed to every temptation possible by now. He doesn't seem the type to blow it, but if he's going to do so you'll not be able to stop him. Like Lillard, McCollum is a four-year college player and appears to have his head on straight. I'm not sure you forego a move that might help your team based on the likelihood of Leonard and Crabbe getting corrupted.
If Sanders came into the locker room acting the fool and bringing disrepute to the franchise, I'd anticipate far more Blazers shaking their heads and dismissing him than lining up to follow in his footsteps. This is one of the few locker rooms in the league that might stand a chance of changing Sanders instead of the other way around.
If someone offers you a Rolex on the street for $100 you should pass it up. But if someone offers you that Rolex for 25 cents, give them the quarter and take a chance. If nothing else you'll have a story to tell. If it does turn out to be authentic, well, you've got an even better story.
3. Sanders is sitting out, but all of this applies to any bought-out player once they pass waivers.
Blazers fans probably don't have to agonize over this particular decision because Sanders appears to be taking the rest of the year off after having his contract halved and spread out over the next 7 years. The Milwaukee Bucks didn't think he could be reformed and they've given him the, "Hope it goes well for you, bye!" kiss off. Their assessment is probably accurate. Sanders is high risk.
But if one of the highest-risk free-floaters is worth it, how much more so the lesser-risk players? Among other things the Afflalo trade is an indication that the Blazers are going for it...the forward push has begun. Since momentum is rolling and they can't stop it., Portland can't afford to pass up an essentially free opportunity to upgrade the team. Selfish players won't fit. Wings who can't hit from distance won't fit. The Blazers don't need another shooting guard. Beyond that, almost any kind of player could help.
Over the past few years we've learned that Neil Olshey moves in his own time for his own reasons. We've seen him take pots with bluffs and we've seen him fold his hand and wait for better. Seldom have we seen him lay his cards on the table. Last Thursday was a hand-revealing moment. Once the cards are out there, there's no need to hedge anymore. You still might not go all-in on this hand but if you're in for $7 million already and the raise is $500,000, pot odds say you follow through.
For this reason I'd be surprised if the Blazers didn't take a look at released and retired players. Maybe they won't find one they like, but they have to be shopping. Ignoring the possibility wouldn't make sense.
More on buyouts and the Afflalo-Alonzo Gee deal tomorrow!
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