By Mark Montieth
Indiana Pacers forward Jonathan Bender is awaiting word on MRI results that could determine whether he'll be able to continue his NBA career.
Bender, the fifth pick in the 1999 draft, has a loss of cartilage in both knees and has missed a significant number of games in each season since 2001-02.
He has played in just two games this season for a total of 21 minutes, and for the first time has not accompanied the team on a trip.
"We're going to see," Bender said when asked whether he thinks he will play again.
"I'm not going to even talk about that yet."
Pacers CEO Donnie Walsh said Tuesday that the results of Bender's latest MRIs have been sent to his agent in Los Angeles, and that a meeting with Bender and doctors is scheduled for next week. Bender's agent, Thaddeus Fucher, did not return phone calls Tuesday.
"Right now, we're putting his tests in front of people to get opinions on where they think he is," Walsh said. "When we have enough information, we'll make a statement."
Bender said he remains optimistic, but he has little medical evidence on which to base that hope.
"That's just the way I am," he said.
"I'll see what the MRI shows compared to last year."
Pacers forward Jermaine O'Neal expressed sympathy when asked whether Bender might have to retire.
"That's up to him to talk about," O'Neal said Tuesday in Salt Lake City, where the Pacers played the Utah Jazz. "Whatever his decision is, I wish the best for him.
"He's talked to his teammates to let us know what's going on. It's a hard thing and my heart goes out to him because he's worked so hard and he's not getting that opportunity."
Bender said he has dealt with painful and swelling knees since high school, and has had to take anti-inflammatory medication. After playing 78 games in the 2001-02 season, he played in just 46, 21 and seven games in the three succeeding seasons.
"It's been happening over and over," Bender said.
"It looks like it's catching up with me."
Bender said his injuries aren't frustrating.
"God moves in mysterious ways," he said.
Bender has two seasons, including this one, remaining on a four-year, $28 million contract. He is due $7,175,000 this season and $7.7 million next season. Insurance would cover his salary if he's forced into retirement by injury.
Bender -- a 7-footer with a 39-inch vertical jump and an accurate perimeter shot -- has shown flashes of potential.
But his constant absences have made him a target of frustrated fans.
"I know it's a hard time for him," O'Neal said. "He has so much ability and people from the outside are hard on him because he hasn't played. He hasn't (not) played because he doesn't want to play. He hasn't played because he physically can't play."Anybody who has seen J.B. play knows what type of player he is. He has unbelievable ability and it's just unfortunate that it's an issue that was given to him from a higher level."
I thought I would go ahead & highlight that part before somebody else did. All I will say about it is this. Let's hope that whatever happens is in the best interest of Jon & the Pacers.