The Phoenix Suns are declining the fourth-year option on former No. 4 overall pick Dragan Bender, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Tuesday.
According to Wojnarowski, Bender had wished the team had picked up the option, but was going to continue to work to make it in the NBA.
After playing sparingly in his rookie season, Bender was a disappointment in his 82 games played last season, averaging 6.5 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game. Bender was consistently cited by teammates and coaches as a player who had to be aggressive and confident, yet Bender lacked that in his play.
In Summer League and preseason play, Bender did not perform well and was not in head coach Igor Kokoskov’s rotation to start the season.
“To keep himself ready. There is nothing he’s doing wrong right now,” Kokoskov said Tuesday when asked what Bender can do to earn minutes. “As far as preparation, summer, (he) put a lot of hours, a lot of time into the gym, you know, coming here after practice at night, work on his shooting, work on his game.
“That’s all he controls. This is just the circumstance. There’s no way we can play 13 guys. Nothing’s written in stone. Things can change on a daily basis.”
Bender was set to make roughly $5.9 million for the 2019-20 season before becoming a restricted free agent the next season. With the option being turned down, Bender will become an unrestricted free agent next offseason. Former top 10 pick and Magic guard Mario Hezonja just went through this last offseason after having his fourth-year option declined, signing with the Knicks as an unrestricted free agent.
Bender was selected fourth overall in the 2016 NBA Draft. The Suns also traded up in that draft to the eighth spot and selected power forward Marquese Chriss, who was traded to Houston this past offseason.
Veteran Ryan Anderson has started at power forward while small forward T.J. Warren has played as his backup off the bench.
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