AP Photo/David ZalubowskiLarry Sanders would come with a four-year, $44 million contract extension that begins this summer.In an ideal scenario, the Mavericks would make Samuel Dalembert one of the league’s better backup big men this summer.
The problem is there aren’t many potential upgrades available in free agency. In fact, you could argue that only Marcin Gortat fits the Mavs’ need for a center who can serve as a rim-protecting, rebound-grabbing defensive anchor while also posing a threat as a roll man offensively. And the Washington Wizards aren’t likely to let Gortat go without putting up a financial fight.
Chandler, who will be forever beloved in Dallas due to being such a critical piece of the 2011 championship puzzle, would be an extremely safe trade target. Sure, there is always an injury concern with him, but the Mavs would only be committed to the final season of that big contract he signed with the New York Knicks. They are obviously familiar with Chandler and know he’s almost as valuable in the locker room as he is on the floor.
Sanders, on the other hand, would be about as risky as they come. He’d arrive in Dallas with a four-year, $44 million contract extension that begins this summer and character red flags the size of billboards.
But, man, does this freakishly athletic 6-foot-11 dude have the tools to be a great fit next to Dirk Nowitzki for the big German’s golden years.
If Sanders’ head is screwed on straight, he’s a Defensive Player of the Year candidate who has yet to hit his prime. He’s an elite shot-blocker, ranking second in the NBA with 2.8 per game in 2012-13 despite averaging only 27.3 minutes. When engaged, he’s an excellent rebounder (9.5 per game in 2012-13). His presence can make the difference between a team’s defense being strong or stinking, as was the case for the 2012-13 Bucks.
But there’s a reason that Milwaukee might want to dump such a dominant defensive big man. Sanders also ranks among the league leaders in baggage.
Sanders certainly did his best to give the Bucks buyer’s remorse last season. He needed surgery on his thumb after getting in a bar fight and got suspended five games for violating the league’s drug policy, then figured that gave him a platform to lobby to reform the nation’s marijuana laws. Sanders, who suffered a season-ending fractured orbital bone Feb. 8, didn’t perform well in the few games he did play last season. His numbers dropped drastically from the previous season — 7.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.7 blocks — in a 23-game sample size.
Maybe the 25-year-old Sanders would benefit tremendously by moving from Milwaukee to Dallas, as did Monta Ellis and Dalembert.
The Mavs take great pride in having created a culture that brings the best out of players. However, that’s far from foolproof. They couldn’t save Josh Howard’s career when he started sabotaging it with off-court foolishness. They couldn’t get Lamar Odom to care during his brief stay in Dallas.
If Sanders kept going south in Dallas, the Mavs would be stuck with him. That’s not a contract that they could expect to get rid of if Sanders proves that he’ll be a problem regardless of his surroundings.
However, if Sanders got back on track in Dallas, he might be good enough to mask the defensive weaknesses of an elite offensive team. In other words, the Mavs might be legitimate contenders again.
Rest assured that Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson would do a massive amount of homework before pulling the trigger on a trade for Sanders. That’d include discussions with Ellis, who might not have good things to say about a former teammate who he reportedly almost fought after a game while the Bucks were being swept by the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs.
The Mavs’ front office would have to figure out their answer to a $44 million question that would play out over the next four years: Is the risk of those massive character red flags worth the reward of Sanders’ ridiculous upside?