The Cavs could add a player as early as Monday, when they have hinted they will choose a big man to try to fill the 15th roster spot left when Andrew Bogut suffered a broken leg.
Sanders is attempting a comeback after two years away from the NBA, and scouts who have watched him work out recently say his timing is off a little and his muscle mass is down from where it used to be. But they report he is still an athletic player whose talent is tempting, even considering his history of off-court issues.
Sanders, 28, has on multiple occasions violated the NBA’s drug policy with positive marijuana tests. He also walked away from the game and later checked himself into a hospital for anxiety and depression.
But during his five-year tenure with the Milwaukee Bucks, who drafted him in the first round of the 2010 draft, Sanders was one of the most prolific shot-blockers in the league. He has averaged 1.8 blocks per game in his career and was second in the league in blocks per game in 2012-13.
LeBron James has teamed with a player amid a career comeback before to success. In January 2013, Chris Andersen had been out of the league for a year because of a bizarre legal issue that prompted the Denver Nuggets to cut him and other teams to stay away. The Miami Heat did background research and monitored him for some time and eventually signed him. It ended up being a significant move; the unexpected boost he gave them contributed to the team repeating as NBA champions.
And the Cavs appear to be in need of a spark. On Sunday, the Houston Rockets came back from 14 points down to give Cleveland its fourth loss in five games, 117-112. It wasn’t exactly unexpected. The Cavs are now 0-9 this season on the second night of back-to-backs on the road.
Most glaring, the Rockets got 20 offensive rebounds to the Cavs’ four, the largest differential in any game this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Over the past 12 games, which stretches one month, the Cavs have been outrebounded on the offensive glass by a whopping 54.
The 12 games isn’t a random number; it’s the number of games Kevin Love has missed after knee surgery. The team is 6-6 in that span. After being sixth in defensive rebounding before Love went down, they are 11th over the past month. On the offensive glass, they are 29th since Love got hurt. Even Tristan Thompson, one of the league’s best offensive rebounders, has had his numbers slip.
“We’re small,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “You’ve got to play LeBron at the 4 some and got to play Derrick Williams at the 4 some, [Richard Jefferson] at the 4. We are undersized, but you’ve still got to box out and be physical and try the best we can. We do miss Kevin’s defensive rebounding, which is big for us, but we still have to go out and do it.”
James, whom the Cavs have periodically leaned on in this role, has probably earned the right to draw a line in the sand on the matter of his workload at power forward. During the team’s three-game road trip, James had two triple-doubles, and Sunday he had 30 points, seven rebounds and five assists (plus eight turnovers).
That the Cavs have only two healthy true big men on the roster right now — Channing Frye and Thompson — complicates matters.
Asked whether the Cavs’ size was an issue, James answered with a flat “next question” Sunday night.
Love’s return from knee surgery will likely help to pacify this issue — he’s traveling with the team again and indicating he wants to beat the six-week time frame put on his recovery — and the team will also likely rebound better.
But the Cavs have struggled as a team defensively. They are a woeful 22nd in defensive rating and rank in the bottom five defending the 3-pointer and total 3-pointers allowed, though they held the Rockets to a respectable 36 percent Sunday.
“As of right now, we just have a lot more to learn,” Kyrie Irving said after scoring 28 points but getting outworked on a few key rebounds by Patrick Beverley late in the game. “That’s what it really boils down to. This is not a perfect team right now, and we understand that.”
Information from ESPN’s Chris Haynes was used in this report.
Cavaliers hold extended contract talks with C Larry Sanders – ESPN