It’s been a brutal season for the Milwaukee Bucks. As of this writing, they’re sitting on 14 wins and 63 losses, a league-worst clip despite the Sixers’ recent 26-game losing streak.
But unlike Philadelphia, which began this season with a nakedly obvious quest to bottom out, Milwaukee actually chased the playoffs. They (rather questionably) signed O.J. Mayo and Zaza Pachulia and traded for Wisconsin native Caron Butler, who is the only player in NBA history ever excited about getting shipped to the Bucks.
Safe to say, these moves bore precious little fruit.
More significantly, they also signed center Larry Sanders, who finished third in 2013’s Most Improved Player voting and 7th for Defensive Player of the Year, to a four-year, $44 million extension. The young, ridiculously athletic, often charismatic big man-made major strides on both sides of the ball last season, and seemed like a natural candidate to peg as the franchise face.
The ensuing results have been nothing short of disastrous.
A November bar brawl resulting in a torn thumb ligament and several weeks missed. (Sanders in the police blotter also raised awareness of an otherwise largely unknown animal cruelty charge.) Heads butted with new coach Larry Drew and teammates. Subpar play. A February orbital fracture that cost the remainder of his season.
As a cherry on the poop sundae, Sanders was hit Friday with a five-game drug suspension for using marijuana. And because Y.O.L.O., he used the banishment as an opportunity to stump for marijuana legalization.
Per the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
“It’s something I feel strongly about, just to let you know something personal about me. I will deal with the consequences from it. It’s a banned substance in my league. But I believe in marijuana and the medical side of it. I know what it is if I’m going to use it. I study it and I know the benefits it has. In a lot of ways we’ve been deprived. You can’t really label it with so many other drugs that people can be addicted to and have so many negative effects on your body and your family and your relationships and impairment. This is not the same thing. The stigma is that it’s illegal. I hate that. Once this becomes legal, this all will go away. But I understand for my work it’s a banned substance. I will deal with the consequences and I apologize again to my fans for that.”
On one hand, the suspension remains five games whether Sanders speaks out or shuts up, so he might as well double down. And I happen to agree with Sanders from a political/worldview sense.
Full disclosure, I don’t use marijuana. (I have on many occasions eons ago, but ultimately decided I don’t like the effect.) I don’t like to be around marijuana. (I hate the smell and potential contact high.) I often find stoned people annoying and stupid. (Do I really need to explain this one?) But I also think the drug isn’t nearly dangerous enough to justify the energy, financial resources, and prison cells devoted its criminalization. There are also legitimate healing benefits from marijuana for those suffering from cancer or other diseases, and athletes besides Sanders have spoken about marijuana alleviating aches and pain from the rigors of professional sports. Even if you’re skeptical Sanders was partaking for that honorable reason, the point isn’t any less potentially valid.
America is collectively shifting toward the legalization of marijuana, and I suspect that will eventually be the case in all 50 states.
However, the fact remains Sanders is an athlete who draws a salary from a private business that prohibits marijuana use, which makes him less than ideal as a grassroots (pun intended) spokesperson for this fight. Particularly when you consider how Sanders has fallen apart on and off the court immediately upon receiving long-term security. Like, the minute after. I imagine Milwaukee’s front office has already lost sleep over Sanders this season. This incident will only result in more Ambien. (Purchased legally, with a prescription, of course.)
Sanders can obviously rebound next season, and has all the motivation in the world to get back on track. But again, he’s the Bucks’ face and for the time being, the embodiment of everything gone wrong for Milwaukee this season.
Onto the rankings.
|The streak is over, but the Spurs can cruise through April and still easily hold the overall #1 seed. Not that they were pushing players with heavy minutes, anyway.||1|
|2||THUNDER(54-19)||Thursday’s win over San Antonio likely means more to them than it did the Spurs. Meanwhile, KD’s 25+ streak (41 and counting) seems like the final piece of his MVP resume.||3|
|Wednesday’s game vs. OKC might (might) have some implications, but the LAC’s biggest need is to keep Griffin, Redick, and Co. healthy.||2|
|Blew a chance to create space on Indiana, and de-emphasize their game on April 11. Bad for the Heat, good for viewers at home.||7|
|Dwight’s ankle is a concern, but good security in the 4th seed and relatively soft (though road heavy) finish means they can play it safe down the stretch.||4|
|Among the more surprising 50-win teams of recent memory. Can they advance, given their defensive issues? Probably not, but in Oct. nobody thought they’d have the opportunity.||14|
|Looking more and more like they’ll finish sixth, hooking up with the Clips in the first round. Be sure to make your thank you offering to the Basketball Gods.||7|
|The NBA’s fifth-best offense over the last month still drags along an average D, but they shape up as a major pain for any top-3 squad in the West.||10|
|Had a huge week, with wins in Portland and over OKC. Finish with four of five on the road, including Saturday in Dallas.||8|
|10||GRIZZLIES(45-32)||Begin the week on the outside looking in, but finish the season at Phoenix and hosting Dallas.||9|
|Among the teams with better efficiency differentials since the All-Star Game: Cleveland, New York, Washington, Minnesota, Brooklyn, Toronto, and Charlotte.||5|
|The Nets went 14-5 without K.G., and now get him back just in time for the playoffs. Otherwise known as “The Part of the Year Where You Really Want K.G..”||13|
|The league’s third-worst offense before the break has been the ninth worst after, paired with the NBA’s most stifling D. Is that enough scoring for the Bulls to advance?||12|
|They’ve won six of seven, and finish with the Sixers, Pistons, Bucks, and two against New York. Shouldn’t be too hard to tune up for the postseason.||11|
|Six weeks ago, the idea of dropping into a first-round matchup with Indiana seemed like suicide. Now, if it happens, Washington could be better off.||16|
|Seven wins two seasons ago. This year, over .500 and in the playoffs for the second time in franchise history. Gotta get Steve Clifford in the COY chatter.||17|
|It’s a shame the computers don’t dictate playoff seeding, since the Wolves have the 10th best expected W/L record as calculated by Basketball Reference (45-30).||16|
|J.R. Smith is finally making himself useful (beyond volume 3-pt. shooting). 24.4/4.8/3.2 over his last five, and 44 percent from the floor since the break.||19|
|Sure, it’s a mid-pack offense, but it’s an egalitarian mid-pack offense. No squad in the league generates more buckets off assists.||21|
|Aaron Brooks is averaging over 30 minutes a night over Denver’s last six. Tells you all you need to know about how things have played out from October to now.||20|
|Anthony Morrow over his last five games: 18.4 points on 60 percent from the floor, 63 percent from downtown, and 89 percent from the line.||18|
|Kyrie says the media have treated him unfairly, constantly questioning whether he wants out or not. Totally get that. But seriously, are you staying or going?||23|
|Sure. they’re 23rd, but honestly it’s hard to differentiate between the last eight teams on most days.||22|
|Shouldn’t Pistons fans be the most annoyed? This team is expensive, has talent, was trying to be good, and still hasn’t defeated a +.500 team in nearly two months.||30|
|Whispers Mike D’Antoni might return next season have fans sharpening their pitchforks. Jim Buss explores building a moat around his office.||23|
|Friday’s victory over the Pelicans notwithstanding, the Jazz have quietly been on the NBA’s biggest disasters of late. Only three wins since March 1.||26|
|Jeff Green hasn’t had a month shooting over 40 percent from the floor since December. 31% from 3-point range since the break, taking over five a game. Crikey.||25|
|It took a while, but Tobias Harris has come around. 16.9/6.8 on 51 percent from the floor since the All Star break.||27|
|You know, take away the 26-game losing streak, and they’re 17-34!||29|
|Faced with the threat of losing their prime ping-pong ball status, the Bucks are finishing strong. Kudos.||28|
Andy Kamenetzky is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com. Follow him and his brother, Brian, on Twitter.