MILWAUKEE -- It's been a busy summer for Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond.
After hiring a new coach, Hammond set his sights on the NBA draft, then got to work rebuilding the roster, eventually bringing 11 new players to Milwaukee.
Last week, however, Hammond made sure one of those players still around after last season stays in Milwaukee for a while. He signed centre Larry Sanders to a four-year extension worth approximately $44 million.
"We've talked about moving forward as an organization and building around young players on our roster," Hammond said. "He's one, if not the, key, core piece for us moving forward. This is a great step for us for who we want to become."
The extension comes after a breakout year for 24-year-old Sanders, who led Milwaukee in rebounds (9.5 per game) and averaged 9.8 points, both career highs. His 2.83 blocks per game were second in the NBA to Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka.
"He's one of the top defenders in the NBA," Hammond said. "He's one of the top shot-blockers in our business and he's only going to get better defensively, get better on offence and we're really excited to have him be a part of our organization long-term."
Offensively, Sanders is still a work-in-progress, but has shown marked improvement over his first three seasons and shot a career-best 50.6 per cent from the field. Free throw shooting is something of a concern -- he's 58 per cent from the line in his career but -- but he connected at a 61.8 per cent clip a year ago while averaging 8.5 attempts.
Milwaukee selected Sanders with the 15th overall pick in the 2010 draft. He was set to enter the final year of his four-year rookie-scale contract, which will pay him $3 million this season. Getting better on offence is a key goal for Sanders and new coach Larry Drew.
"Not just going to the basket but trying to facilitate more, open the court and understand the offence more," Sanders said. "There's a lot on the offensive end I'm working on."
Sanders' emotional play has made him a crowd-favourite at the Bradley Center, but has also made him a target for officials, who ejected him a league-leading five times last season, including three in a span of 10 days. He finished fifth in the league with 3.3 fouls per game and was third with 14 technicals.
"My focus needs to be on winning the game," Sanders said. "I know coach hates when we talk to the officials ... so I'll just watch him."
Not long after taking the job, Drew sat down with Sanders and made it clear that things had to change.
"We went to dinner and talked," Drew said. "It was a very frank and candid conversation; he realized he had to get better and it's something I'm going to expect of him."