(right) averaged 2.8 blocks last season, second-best in the NBA. (Gary Dineen/Getty Images)
The Bucks announced the signing of Larry Sanders to a contract extension Tuesday.
The four-year rookie extension, which kicks in for the 2014-15 season, will be worth $44 million, according to Yahoo! Sports and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. The deal reportedly will not include an option for either side, but will include incentives that could push its total value up to $48 million.
“By combining his God-given ability with hard work and determination, Larry has developed into one of the top young defensive players in the league,” Bucks GM John Hammond said in a statement. “He is a very important part of what we are doing in Milwaukee, and we’re excited to announce his contract extension.”
Sanders, 24, averaged 9.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks last year in what amounted to a breakout season after two years spent mostly in a reserve role.
"Can't believe I've been granted this opportunity to represent Milwaukee for the next five years and hopefully the rest of my career," Sanders wrote on Instagram. "Words can not explain my gratitude for the Bucks organization and the faith in me as a leader and a worker. I won't let you down Mil-town."
The 2010 first-round pick out of Virginia Commonwealth started 55 games for Milwaukee last season, finishing second in the league in blocks per game while establishing a reputation as one of the NBA's most fearless and physically gifted interior defenders. Sanders placed seventh in the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year voting.
The agreement with Sanders completes a busy summer for the Bucks, who hired Larry Drew as coach and overhauled their roster with the additions of O.J. Mayo, Brandon Knight, Zaza Pachulia, Carlos Delfino and Luke Ridnour while also saying goodbye to many of last year's key pieces, including Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, J.J. Redick and Mike Dunleavy Jr.
All of that roster churn has left Sanders as Milwaukee's top young building block. Although his volatile personality and limited offensive game remain issues, Sanders' impact on the defensive end is undeniable and worthy of serious compensation. With Sanders on the court, Milwaukee's defensive rating was a sterling 98.8; when he went to the bench, that number plummeted to a porous 105.6. That on/off difference of 6.8 is massive: 2013 Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol also posted a 6.8 on/off difference (95.4 when he was on, 102.2 when he was off). Any headaches induced by Sanders' on-court antics and fines for criticizing officials should be relieved by the knowledge that his rim protection and rebounding ability are capable of making all sorts of defensive problems disappear.
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The reported terms of Sanders' agreement are squarely in line with those of other players at his position and also with last year's rookie extensions. First, the centers: Sanders' deal puts him in the same category as JaVale McGee ($44 million over four years), DeAndre Jordan ($43 million over four years), Nikola Pekovic ($60 million over five years), Al Horford ($60 million over five years) and Joakim Noah ($60 million over five years). Surely Milwaukee and its fans would prefer Sanders to McGee and Jordan, and it's possible as the deal progresses that his defensive acumen bumps him close to the front of that group.
As for last fall's extensions, Sanders lines up next to Serge Ibaka ($49 million over four years), Ty Lawson ($48 million over four years) and Stephen Curry ($44 million over four years). The deals for Ibaka and Curry both already look like great values, underscoring Milwaukee's motivation for moving quickly to get this done early.
Given both players' physiques and shot-blocking abilities, Ibaka stands as the most obvious comparison for Sanders. That the Bucks center would wind up a cut below Ibaka from a compensation standpoint makes all the sense in the world. Like Ibaka, Sanders will need to expand his offensive game if he wants to receive All-Star recognition. But, also like Ibaka, Sanders provides a game-changing presence on defense valuable enough that mere competence on the other end is enough to make him an extremely useful player and a franchise building block. The terms here wind up being so favorable that this deal almost makes you forget that the Bucks recently gave Pachulia $15.6 million over three years.