After noticing a true lack of progress out of Dragan Bender during Las Vegas Summer League and preseason action, the writing was on the wall he wasn’t long for the Suns’ roster.
Phoenix had to decide on whether or not to take the fourth season of Bender’s by Oct. 31. Well, we finally know the decision, via ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Bender’s fourth-year team option has been declined, officially closing the book on the 2016 draft class that also included Marquese Chriss and Tyler Ulis. All three will now be off the roster next season, and possibly out of the league altogether.
Story filed to ESPN: Suns declining 4th-year option on former No. 4 overall pick Dragan Bender. He tells ESPN: "Of course I wish they picked up the option, but I am not going to let this stop me from reaching my goals. I am 20 and I will keep working to make it in this league..."— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) October 30, 2018
Through the Suns’ first six games, Bender has been glued to the end of the bench. The only time he sees the court is if the game is already out of reach. That was definitely foreshadowing today’s decision by interim general manager James Jones, a determination made even easier considering Bender’s price tag in 2019-20 would have been $5.9 million.
According to a league source, the Suns want to preserve enough max cap space to possibly lure star veteran free agents who are in the 10-year threshold, costing $38.2 million instead of $32.7 million, keeping all of their options open heading into an important summer. In order to get there, Bender’s option had to be declined and the final year of Ryan Anderson’s contract stretched through 2022.
Bender dealt with a crazy environment around him since his arrival, with three coaches in three seasons, including falling quickly out of favor with Earl Watson, who preferred Marquese Chriss. However, his development stagnated this year.
Maybe head coach Igor Kokoskov wants to further develop him and he is ultimately re-signed at a much lower figure, but this feels like the proverbial knockout blow of the draft that might have ultimately led to Ryan McDonough’s firing.
It definitely feels like this is the final run for Bender in Phoenix.
Instead of hitting on two top-eight selections with Bender and Chriss, both will now have their options declined.
Bender told Wojnarowski via text from his story the following:
“Of course, I wished they picked up my option but I’m not going to let this stop me from reaching my goals. I am 20, and I will keep working to be the best NBA player I can be and make it in this league whether it’s with Phoenix or another team.”
The Suns’ No. 4 overall pick will now become an unrestricted free agent, free to choose whichever destination he wants instead of Phoenix matching any offers on the open market, which would have been his fate the summer of 2020 otherwise.