It feels like any team who might want to sign Bender should pick up Crawdaddy as well.
He’s one of my favorite teammates ever, And I still think he has star qualities. It just depends on the system and the situation. I love Dragan.
Dragan Bender really did seem to turn things around from being one of the worst players in the entire NBA to being a fringe NBA rotation player. And he flashed more skills and confidence in the past two months than we've ever seen.
Sure, we could credit our development coaches. But I'm going to instead give credit to Jamal. A lot has been written about how they've developed a bond and often practice shooting together (though JC's shooting did not rub off on the Croatian).
In the final game of the season, I watched Jamal direct Dragan to the right spots and deliver some really sweet passes right on the money to where Bender needed to receive them. Here is one example from the Mavs game.
Jamal seems to have jump started DB's actual player development where Watson and Interim Triano mostly failed. Even when Dragan was shooting 38% for much of last season, he wasn't contributing to winning because he had no courage to do what needed to be done. Now he seems to understand what it takes to play in the NBA. He even dunks!
Which ever team decides to take a flier on Dragan better also bring along Jamal.
Not saying it should be the Suns. I'd be ok bringing them both back on minimum deals for a season with a second season non-guaranteed, if they would take that. Or give Jamal an assistant coaching or player development role.
I'd like to expand a moment on Jamal and this season, and why I'd like to keep him around:
Last night's game against the Mavs Crawford showed everyone that bothered to watch just what type of person he is. For the first half, he tried to get the team to play up to their abilities and deferred to the young guys for much of the game. As the game got out of control, most likely because the young guys got caught up in Dirk's finale, Jamal decided to rally them back to the cause of winning by showing them what needed to be done.
I could read the anguish and frustration on his face in the second half as he single-handedly willed the team back from a disastrous loss. And as he shot the team back into game relevance, he also shot himself back into fame relevance in the league. He wasn't trying to out-duel Dirk, he was trying to make a point to our young players: Its all about effort. I found it really inspiring, as an "old guy" myself. He made Dirk, just two years older than JC, seem like a wash out of a star without even trying to embarrass him. If you haven't yet, watch his highlights from last night. 18 for 30 and most makes never even hit the rim. (Dirk was 11 of 31)
Go back and look at that clip I linked to where he set up Dragan for a dunk. At the very start of the clip you'll see Jamal jump super high up to steel a pass and start the fast break, taking it all the way into the paint and provide a perfect pass to Bender. He played with a younger man's energy and passion- or at least what should be a young man's energy and passion. He was frustrated at our young guys giving in to another team.
Last night he pushed the young guys, ALL the young guys playing, to play harder and smarter. They got the lead down to 5 points before the Mavs finally got on a run. It was conceivable they could have won that game. Regardless, Jamal really inspired them. Even Jimmer was playing energetic defense (of sorts).
Too many games our young guys have not given their all. Maybe our coaches too, given the inconsistencies and lack of W's. While Jamal did not help the team flip the switch for the season, he did seem to help the locker room and morale. Jamal did not always play well on the court, but he was (finally) a vet that didn't totally "dog it" with his time here. We need more of that. We are talking about bringing in more vets next season. Jamal might be a good person to have around to ensure they don't cock it up like Ariza, Tyson, and Dudz.
Jamal helped Bender even though it wasn't his job. Could he help other players if he were still around? I think he probably could. Maybe best as a development coach, where he wouldn't have to worry about keeping his own game up and instead work on skills and attitudes of others. He seems good at it.