INDEPENDENCE (92.3 The Fan) – Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue doesn’t question Larry Sanders’ talent. Any reservations he has about the free agent big man come from another area.
In fact, not many could say much negative about Sanders’ game before the young center decided to walk away from basketball for personal reasons. He was once one of the up-and-coming premier defenders in the league.
The Milwaukee Bucks certainly thought so when they offered him a $40 million contract.
A shot blocker, a rim protector, an excellent pick-and-roll player — Sanders could do quite a bit to impact the game on the floor. But his own internal issues — things like being suspended for using marijuana, dealing with anxiety and depression — took him off the NBA radar during the 2014-2015 season.
Now, he’s back on the comeback trail, and Cleveland wanted to get a closer look at the 28-year-old center, welcoming him in for a tryout on Wednesday.
Is Sanders, who averaged 8.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game from 2012-2015, capable of truly helping the injury-riddled Cavs squad?
“I don’t think his talents went anywhere,” Lue said following Wednesday’s practice. “Being able to block shots, run the floor, being athletic. I don’t think that’s going to change. It’s just a mindset of, ‘Does he really want to play the game and does he still love it?’ If his mindset is right, he can definitely still play.”
The mindset portion of Lue’s concern is fair to question.
The only way to get a better understanding of where Sanders is at physically — and more importantly, mentally — was to meet him face-to-face. From that perspective, Lue came away impressed.
“He’s a good dude,” Lue said. “I know he has some negative things said about him, but just meeting him for the first time, just talking to him one on one, I mean, he’s a great guy. You never know, you never understand until you’re around that person and you’re able to talk to that person. With me, everybody I meet always has a clean slate. You have a clean slate until you do something wrong.”
Cleveland currently owns an open roster spot entering the league’s trade deadline on Thursday, but adding a player is tricky for Cleveland. They don’t have many assets left to choose from. And they probably aren’t trading one of their top three stars to completely overhaul their roster.
That means the Cavs have to get creative. On some level, they already did, acquiring sharp-shooting guard Kyle Korver in a trade with the Atlanta Hawks and finding a diamond in the rough by inking Derrick Williams to a 10-day contract earlier this season. In no way would Cleveland be able to find someone with Sanders’ talent on the trade market. At least not given the few trade chips they possess. But when discussing a player who hasn’t suited up since the 2014-2015 season, there are plenty of question marks.
“What I saw today I liked,” Lue said. “I like him as a person, like what I saw. We’ll see.”
Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving also recognized Sanders’ game. But like everyone else, he is not sure how the center would fit on Cleveland’s roster.
“Playing against him for a few years like I did, (he’s) definitely an athlete,” Irving said. “He’ll get rebounds, (has) a defensive prowess down in the paint. He was getting extremely better. Then he signed that deal with Milwaukee, becoming one of the premier bigs in the league. He showed some good signs.”
Is there any of that left? And is Sanders ready to attempt to reclaim what he once walked away from? Only time would be able to answer either prominent question. But in Cleveland’s position, what would they really have to lose?
If signed, the upside might be too much to pass up.