When Larry Sanders walked away from his contract worth $27 million on February 26th, 2015 it sent shock-waves throughout the NBA community. For a relatively healthy player to give up so much guaranteed money was relatively unheard of, especially one with as much talent and ability as Sanders.
Sanders left the NBA 27 games into the 2014-2015 NBA season while averaging 12 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per 36 minutes. His reasons for leaving were numerous, but the driving force appeared to be battles with depression and anxiety. Anybody who has been through battles with depression and anxiety or knows someone personally that has can attest to the way it can swallow your life, prevent you from enjoying the things that you love and search for anything that can provide an escape. Sanders removed himself from a situation and a lifestyle that was causing him to spiral despite the considerable financial sacrifice.
"There are parts of the game that really turned me away," Sanders explained to Complex by phone. "But there are always parts of the game that I will always love and that's why I still play the game now. A situation where an understanding team allowed me to invest in my other passions in life, now I'm bringing all of that with me and I feel there may be a home for that."
I recommend you read the entire article as it provides great insight into where Sanders is in his life, the outlets he uses to find a balance, what his passions are and more. It seems as though he is looking for the right opportunity where he will be supported and has an opportunity to win a championship, as he indicated here:
"I want to be in the right place mentally, and they deserve that," Sanders said. "The team and the fans deserve that and it will be a situation where I feel completely safe, the team feels completely safe and we're ready to rock 'n' roll. I'm not going to go to a situation with one foot in and one out. It would be a fully committed thing with no pressure."
Based off what Sanders is saying, I believe it would be in the best interest of both he and the Cleveland Cavaliers to explore a possible union.
The Cavs were able to establish a strong, family-like bond throughout the roster which helped lead them to the first championship in franchise history. While the ride hasn't always been smooth, the effect the team atmosphere has had on the maturation processes of J.R. Smith, Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Kevin Love and more has been very clear to see. From young guys looking to learn how to win, to journeymen looking for the opportunity to find the ultimate success in their career,
When battling mental health issues, finding peace and balance is an essential first step. If Sanders is confident that he has found that, isn't driven by money, but rather the camaraderie that comes with being on a team and pushing for an NBA championship, then a union with the Cavs could be a fruitful one.
Sanders is still only 27 years old. Hassan Whiteside is the only player in the history of the NBA that can match Sanders' career block percentage and rebound percentage. If the Cavs are willing to invest in supporting Sanders and ensuring that he is in a good place, adding him could have tremendous upside to the team.
The addition of Chris "Birdman" Anderson was a smart move by the Cavs, as he provides them with a big body off of the bench. But the potential upside of Sanders gives the Cavs a devastating rim protector and a great athletic tandem of centers with Tristan Thompson, as well as a pair of stretch big men that can play either the four or five in Kevin Love and Channing Frye.
The Cavs have limited options when it comes to improving their team in a meaningful way with the rest of the league eyeing the target on their backs. While the Cavs may look into Sanders and decide that he isn't the right fit or a risk worth taking, not looking into him and assessing where he is at would be a mistake.
Mental health issues have not traditionally been handled well in major league sports. If Sanders has put in the necessary work on his end, it would be great to see the Cavs be a positive example of a team putting a support structure in place and helping someone find both balance and a place in the league.