In 2013, the Bucks completed a rookie ladder extension with then-24-year-old third-year center Larry Sanders (aka LARRY SANDERS!!!) worth $44 million over 4 years. After a stellar year where he finished second in the NBA in blocks per game (behind Serge Ibaka, no less) and third in Most Improved Player voting. Sanders was very popular with fans at the time and with his sensational rim protection it seemed like a bargain.
Things escalated within a few months, however, and that might be an understatement. In the first year of the contract alone (*takes a deep breath*), he missed 25 games due to a finger injury he suffered in a fight at a nightclub, it was quoted twice for disorderly conduct, cited twice for animal cruelty for leaving his dogs outside in the cold on a road trip, suspended 5 games for marijuana use and missed more time with a fractured orbital bone right.
The following season he played 27 games, but after a game against Charlotte on December 23, he left the team for 7 games. This would end up being his last appearance with the Bucks as upon his return he did not dress for any games and rumors began to circulate that he wanted to quit basketball. After receiving a 10-game marijuana suspension again in January 2015, the Bucks bought out his contract in late February, and Sanders later announced that he was effectively leaving the sport. Here’s our full feed of stories from that era detailing the Sanders saga.
From his comments at the time of his near-retirement and this long list of baggage from the previous 12 months, it was abundantly clear that Sanders had real mental health issues at the time. He mentioned going to rehab and losing his desire to play the game, which he realized a bit later in his teens than most gamers. Sanders has expressed a desire to do more with art (he majored in it in college) and to experiment with music. I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that while we’re disappointed (maybe even miffed) that it didn’t work out, we hoped then and now that he was in a better place.
Buying Sanders was not easy, however. At the time, he was actually in the first year of the extension and therefore had over three years and around $36 million remaining on the deal, meaning he only played 8% of its duration. However, he still received almost half of the money he signed for. To retire, Sanders had to give up about $20 million in the buyout, which meant the Bucks still owed him about $15.2 million. Rather than pay that money out each of the next three seasons, the Bucks used the stretch provision to save an estimated $5.1 million a year over that period after the buyout.
Extending his contract after waiving him in February 2015 and paying him the rest of the money they owed him that season meant the Bucks paid Sanders just under $1.9 million. every year since. That’s six seasons to pay for a player who wasn’t on the roster and outside of a 5-game, 13-minute stint with the Cavs in 2017, wasn’t playing professional basketball. Although in the grand scheme of NBA cap numbers it’s a pretty small number, it would cover a veteran’s minimum salary in any of those years. The buy-and-stretch puts about $9 million a year (he would have made $11 million a year had he performed his contract plus any incentives) back on the cap sheet for Milwaukee from 2015 to 2018 at least, but overall not ideal.
No more! As of now, midnight July 1st, when this article is published on the site (I’ve had this article pending and ready to go for months at the top of our writer’s board, prompting laughter from my colleagues ), the 2021-22 league year is over and the Bucks’ salary obligations to Sanders have been met. After $1.9 million in dead money on the books set aside for him every year, Milwaukee no longer has to pay him. By my calculations, he ended up paying her $13.1 million by the time it was all said and done, so they kind of saved some money on what was originally planned. Pretty cool for Sanders, get all that cash not to play basketball.
That’s not the only good news about the Bucks’ cap records today. They also no longer have to pay $3.2 million a year to Jon Leuer, all-time great badger and former Bucks second-round pick. You may recall that in the summer of 2019, just days before the draft, Milwaukee traded Tony Snell and their 30th first-round pick (which then ended up in Cleveland, which picked Kevin Porter Jr. ) to Detroit in what amounted to a bad contract trade that could save Milwaukee money.
Although Snell had a few solid years in Milwaukee, he owed nearly $25.6 million in the two remaining seasons of the 4-year, $46 million extension he signed in July 2017. If you remember, 2019 was a huge offseason for the Bucks where they had four very important players in free agency: Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, Brook Lopez and Malcolm Brogdon. With Bledsoe extended that spring, clearing space to secure new offers for four-fifths (!) of their starting lineup was a priority. By then, Snell had fallen out of rotation due to injury and poor performance, so he was the obvious guy to switch from in order to free up some space.
However, the cost of another team taking on that unwanted salary was a late first-round pick, and since Detroit didn’t have the wiggle room to absorb Snell’s contract without, they had to fire a good chunk of the salary in Milwaukee. . In 2016, the Pistons signed the former Wisconsin star to a 4-year, $42 million deal (isn’t it funny how similar all those deals I mentioned are?) following a productive year with the Suns. Leuer played well enough his first year in Detroit but only played 8 games the following season due to an ankle injury and only 41 in 2018-19.
With one year and $10.5 million remaining on his contract and no role on the team, the Pistons sent him back across Lake Michigan, where the Bucks later waived him. Rather than pay him eight figures, however, they stretched the remaining salary over the next three seasons to open up more needed caps for Middleton and Lopez. Leuer never played in the NBA again but has raised nearly $3.2 million in each of the last three seasons, filling the salary he would have earned in 2019-20.
This money also just came off the books! After paying more than $5 million to two players who weren’t on the roster since the 2019 offseason, the Bucks finally have zero dead money on their cap sheet. In some seasons, it was almost worth the mid-level ratepayer exception. However, with the Bucks recently over the luxury tax line, they were paying a bit more for these two players due to the tax multiplier effects. They weren’t just paying them $5 million: In 2021-22, the team paid about $17.9 million more in tax penalties because of those stretched salaries.
Now free of those balls and chains, the Bucks can divert more money to players currently on the list. Thanks to Pat Connaughton opting into the final year of his contract at below-market value, with Bobby Portis’ brilliant new extension, Marjon Beauchamp’s long-awaited rookie deal, free agent signing Joe Ingles, as well as the Returning contracts to Wes Matthews and Jevon Carter, the team’s payroll is around $172.5 million and there is one vacancy left. Unlike previous years, however, everything that money goes to players currently in the NBA, so these savings from dead money taken out come at just the right time.
Thus ends a very strange chapter in Bucks history.