Jonathan Bender doesn't look like your typical 28-year-old NBA player. He wears a pair of knee braces that Bernard King probably thought were too old school 20 years ago and his wizened face seems to have born the brunt of his four years in the basketball wilderness. He looks at least 10 years older than his actual age, which only acted to lessen the expectation of what the long-limbed forward would do as a member of the Knicks.
Cue lesson #44,214 about why one should not judge books by their covers. Bender scored 20 points in 29 minutes against the Clippers and Bobcats this weekend, giving the Knicks a boost off the bench they neeeded on each night. On Friday, against the Clippers, Bender scored on his first two touches and helped spur a comeback after a brutal start. In Sunday's win, he scored the first five Knicks points of the fourth quarter to keep them from blowing their entire lead.
His defense was as old school as his knee wraps, with Bender showing a Riley-era affinity for delivering a hard foul, and Bender's definitely carved out a place for himself in the rotation. That's remarkable when you consider that he hasn't played in the NBA since 2005 and makes you wonder if Eddy Curry shouldn't be signing himself up for a four-year break post haste.
The best thing about Bender's emergence is that it is exactly the kind of move the Knicks should have been making over the past two seasons. A low-risk flier on a player who could provide you with something now and in the future without taking up the precious cap space you need to keep clear for an offseason signing. It's two games, so you don't want to get too far ahead of yourself, but it looks like Bender will be a spark off the bench for the Knicks.
That used to be Nate Robinson's role, but barring a swine flu outbreak on the rest of the team he won't be playing it again in New York. Robinson's agent went public with a trade demand over the weekend, sounding like a buffoon in the process by accusing Mike D'Antoni of having a vendetta against his client. That conveniently ignores the fact that the Knicks are 6-3 since they benched the two-time slam dunk contest winner and the fact that the Knicks gave him a larger contract than they had to during an offseason when the other 29 teams in the league passed on a chance to sign Robinson.
It's an even more fraudulent request since Robinson has the right to veto a trade, has a contract that's exceedingly difficult to trade and can't even be traded until Thursday. Robinson isn't Stephon Marbury, he remains a good teammate who is always the first man off the bench to congratulate his teammates. It's business, though, not personal and the Knicks shouldn't be in any rush to grant Robinson's request.
If a good trade presents itself, by all means take it. The Knicks are better off keeping open the chance of using him in a sign-and-trade after the season, though, because that would keep Robinson around in the event Chris Duhon blows out his knee or the aforementioned swine flu outbreak hits the Garden. It would be nice if things worked out for both sides, but they rarely do. The Knicks should put themselves before Robinson, the same way they did when they benched him in the first place.