Sources: Mavs have interest in Sanders

DALLAS -- The Mavericks wanted to sign 36-year-old big man Jermaine O’Neal to address their desire for a rebounder and defensive presence to come off their bench.

So of course they have some interest in a freakishly athletic 26-year-old center who is available only two seasons removed from being a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate.

But the Mavs’ interest in Larry Sanders, based on conversations with team sources, is best described as cautious and complicated.

ESPN’s Marc Stein reports that Sanders is close to finalizing a buyout agreement with the Milwaukee Bucks, but he wouldn’t be available if not for major character issues.

This isn’t remotely similar to Amar’e Stoudemire amicably leaving the last-place New York Knicks in the final season of a five-year deal. The Bucks are a likely playoff team that wanted no part of Sanders, buying him out during the first season of a four-year, $44 million contract extension that was signed after what seemed to be a breakout 2012-13 season.

Sanders has played a total of only 50 games over the last two seasons, and much of the time he missed stemmed from his tendency to find trouble. He seriously injured his thumb during a bar fight last season, has served two suspensions for violating the league’s anti-drug policy by testing positive for marijuana, and sat out the last three games due to “personal reasons.”

There is significant doubt about whether Sanders even wants to play the rest of the season.

The Mavs can offer only the veteran’s minimum, so theoretically they would be taking a minimal risk if Sanders agreed to come to Dallas. However, the Mavs’ front office is sensitive to the potential of creating chemistry problems by adding a player who isn’t all-in; the Lamar Odom disaster is still fresh in their minds.

Sanders' agent, Happy Walters, has a strong relationship with the Dallas front office and also represents Stoudemire and other key Mavs. But Sanders would have to make a convincing case that he’d be fully committed to help make a playoff run in the Western Conference.

The Mavs might not even be willing to have that conversation with Sanders. According to sources, they would not proceed without the approval of shooting guard Monta Ellis.

Their time as teammates in Milwaukee did not end well. Ellis and Sanders reportedly had a heated confrontation and had to be separated after Game 3 of the Miami Heat’s sweep of the Bucks in the 2013 playoffs.

If Ellis doesn’t want Sanders in Dallas, there’s no chance of it happening.

Even if Ellis gives his blessing, the Dallas decision-makers would have to do a lot of due diligence before signing Sanders.

Sanders, who averaged 9.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks in 2012-13, certainly has the ability to help the Mavs. Whether he’s willing is another matter.

He’s a terrifically talented rim protector and rebounder. That doesn’t necessarily mean Sanders would be worth the trouble.