Mike Beas: Pacers need Bender on floor
Jonathan Bender soon dips a big toe into the waters of his seventh NBA season. In this era of Internet access that means we should know everything about the guy short of his maternal grandmother’s maiden name and what vegetables he hated as a kid.
Yet here is what most Indiana Pacers fans can tell you about the 24-year-old forward the franchise plucked out of high school in the 1999 NBA Draft:
Bender is, um, really tall.
Regardless of what mathematical formulas are laid out regarding the 7-foot forward, none can be categorized as flattering due a frustrating linage of injuries that have greatly assisted in Bender solidifying his friendship with the water cooler at the end of the Indiana bench.
n Since donning the blue and gold for the first time, Bender has taken part in an average of 39.2 games per season — or 48 percent of the 82-game regular-season schedule. Furthermore, the numbers have dipped to an embarrassing 24.7 games the past three seasons, bottoming out in 2004-2005 with only seven games played.
n In the time it’s taken Bender to see court time a total of 235 times, Reggie Miller in his first six seasons in Indiana tucked away 484 regular-season performances and well over 500 when one throws in playoff games. And the list goes on. Dale Davis 444 games, Jeff Foster 392, Austin Croshere 340.
By pouring in 31 points in the 1999 McDonald’s High School All-America Game, Bender came off exuding a sort of Garnett-ish air the Pacers found too tempting to pass up.
The kid could post up, windmill opposing shots, even step out and feather in long-range jumpers. JB was our KG, doggone it. Our future. Our post-Reggie. Bender and the newly built Conseco Fieldhouse were going to hit their stride together, perhaps deliver a championship or two.
Fast-forward to 2005 and Conseco looks great. Bender remains the world’s tallest unanswered question.
Every October we hear those all-too-familiar words — ‘breakout’ and ‘season’ — because Bender looks and plays spectacular during Indiana’s training camp. Then, like clockwork, the sleek and spit-shined Ferrari turns into the last car out at the county fair demolition derby, dents galore and a dragging back bumper.
There was the broken left wrist in 2000, the torn left calf muscle in ’03 and knee issues the past two seasons — left in ’04, right this past season.
Somehow franchise twin towers Donnie Walsh and Larry Bird have demonstrated incredible patience waiting for Bender to live up to his pricetag, probably out of fear that, if traded, he’ll ultimately deliver the goods for another franchise. If Bender was to evolve into an NBA All-Star for, say the Lakers or Kings, Bird would require hospitalization from kicking himself so many times.
In fairness to Bender, no one other than Jonathan Bender knows how Jonathan Bender feels. The nagging pains. The frustrating inability to stretch that incredible potential over 82 games and into the playoffs. The mental burden of knowing you’ve become the poster child for letting people down.
Just maybe the 2005-2006 season, his seventh, will be a lucky ‘7’ for Bender. Lord knows the kid is owed some good fortune.
WHERE ARE THE UNIFORMS: For weeks I’ve heard the Pacers were finally ditching the pinstripes for new uniforms, but to date there has been no visual evidence of that.
An e-mail courtesy of Pacers spokesman David Benner informs me the unveiling is likely to happen sometime in September.
Here’s a vote for a blue-gold version of those mid-1970s Cleveland Cavaliers uniforms with the horizontal stripes down the side of both jersey and game pants (now you know why they don’t consult me on such matters).
PACERS NEED TO RETIRE MORE NUMBERS: Move over Roger Brown’s ‘35’, Mel Daniels’ ‘34’ and the ‘30’ made famous by George McGinnis and make room for ‘31’.
Though no announcement has been made, it’s only a matter of time before the Indiana franchise showers retired Reggie Miller with one final wave of applause by retiring the number of the team’s all-time leading scorer.
If Miller demonstrates any apprehension in a solo ceremony, the Pacers ought to consider letting Rik Smits’ No. 45, Billy Knight’s No. 25, Freddie Lewis’ No. 14 or the No. 11 of Billy Keller grace the rafters of Conseco Fieldhouse.
Not in the running: No. 1 (Bo Lamar), No. 35 (Charlie Edge), and No. 44 (Tom Thacker).
Sports Editor Mike Beas can be reached at mike.beas@