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Escape From Bender Island

In this Week’s #BSOfTheSuns Espo Examines Dragan Bender’s Legacy

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

It’s official. Bender Island has been vacated. The For Sale sign is up and even good friend of the column Rhett Reese has reportedly been seen searching for a new place for his fanhood to call home. While there is still six months left in our grand Croatian vacation, for all intents and purposes, it came to an end Monday.

That’s because the Phoenix Suns have declined their fourth year option on former No. 4 pick, and power-less forward, Dragan Bender.

But how did we get here? How did the former lottery pick fall so far so fast?

I equate it to the way many DC Comic fans, like myself, felt about the film Batman V. Superman. The description was enticing. The preview enthralling and watching the actual feature presentation regretful. A multimillion dollar blunder that fell far short of expectations.

Almost all of us, scouts, fans and GMs alike were intrigued by Bender’s potential. One of the youngest players entering the draft, he seemed like the perfect power forward for the modern game. He could shoot the three, guard multiple defenders and had proved it on the biggest stages in Europe.

What many of us forgot was the fact Euroleague isn’t the NBA and that naturally given talent doesn’t always translate to the highest level without the right mental makeup.

On a scale of Elmo to John McClane, Bender seems to have the killer instinct of a sedated ladybug and is about as soft as the center of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. His timid nature on both ends of the floor and lack of confidence in his jumper marked his demise. Three point shooters need to have confidence and a short memory. They have to be able to block out the critics or failure and just keep shooting. Needless to say, Bender was no Eddie Johnson.

Will Bender ever amount to anything in the NBA? At 20 years old there is certainly still time but it will take a major change in mentality. The pressure of being the No. 4 pick for a franchise trapped in rebuilding purgatory never seemed to suit the Croatian forward. While Suns fans were looking for a savior, he always seemed more interested in a secondary role. If he finds the right spot as a role player maybe he can build his confidence.

The more likely conclusion is that he’ll join a long list of foreign talent who didn’t translate in America. Unlike Darko Milicic though, and luckily for the Suns, there won’t be a Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh forever connected to him. In 2016 it was a three player draft and, in true Phoenix fashion, the home team fell just short of the prize.

The Dragan Bender era is coming to an end. At least we’ll always have the memories. And by memories, I mean that one time Bender was in Game of Zones and had the line of the episode.

Oh, and don’t worry about Bender Island. It’s already been purchased, renamed Okobo Island and there are plans for a beachfront resort with ocean views. Deposits are already being taken. Just get in line right behind Rhett.

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