So, for all you darksiders out there, I assume this is just David Benner pulling a Karl Rove here, and none of this is to be believed. I mean, Johnny's a wuss, this can't possibly be true.
Bender Optimistic, Team Cautious About Return
By Conrad Brunner | Jan. 3, 2005
After his first practice in more than six weeks Monday, Jonathan Bender pronounced himself ready to return for Saturday's game in Dallas.
"I can say I'm pretty much back now," Bender said. "I've just got to get a couple of practices in and I'm looking to come back Saturday."
His optimism, while welcome, wasn't universal.
Coach Rick Carlisle and forward Jermaine O'Neal, Bender's closest friend on the team, both urged caution in developing a sense of anticipation about the oft-injured forward.
"I'm not going to talk about getting Bender back until he's back," Carlisle said. "He's doing a little better but this has been a long process. I'm optimistic, especially off of what I saw today, but until he gets a uniform back on, we're putting the cart before the horse.
"Let's see where he is tomorrow and the next day before we can get to Saturday. I know he's worked awfully hard. I know he's doing much better. But this is a situation where I just think we've got to err on the side of reality. We're not sure exactly how long it could take. I'm glad to hear him talk about playing. That's great news. But until he's back, I'm not going to get sucked in."
Plagued by pain in his right knee, Bender hasn't played since Nov. 17. He missed all of training camp and the preseason, then returned for the regular-season opener on Nov. 3 and played well, scoring 11 points in 16 minutes against Cleveland. But the pain returned the next day and he didn't play for two weeks. After that appearance, the pain again recurred and it was decided to shut Bender down for at least six weeks to allow the knee time to fully recover.
Bender missed 61 games last season and 36 in 2002-03 with a variety of injuries, including left knee, right shoulder and left calf. All told, he has missed 123 of the Pacers' last 171 regular-season games.
"We just want him to take his time," said O'Neal. "When we have really anticipated him coming back and playing, he's kind of taken two steps back, so we don't want to put any added pressure on him. Come back when you get the opportunity. It's a marathon. It's a long season. We haven't even reached the (All-Star) break yet.
"Let him get some practice time, learn some of the plays, get some rhythm and come back whenever we can. We need him for the stretch run of the season. We want him to be totally healthy and comfortable and to continue to do what he's been doing."
The past month-and-a-half have been particularly frustrating for Bender because the team was desperately shorthanded after the suspensions of O'Neal, Stephen Jackson and Ron Artest.
"It was hard, man," Bender said. "We were shorthanded and I had to sit. There really wasn't too much I could do about it."
Bender said he spent the previous four days working in New Orleans with strength and conditioning coach Mackie Shilstone. He joined the team for practice Monday and said he felt better physically than "probably since high school."
As a result, the excitement Bender felt entering training camp, before the knee pain became a problem, has returned.
"It's still there all over again," he said. "I'm excited. I was excited today just to be running with the fellas again." The rest of the Pacers will share his excitement if, this time, his comeback is complete.