After being sidelined for nearly four years, Jonathan Bender is confident a new training regimen will allow his troublesome knees to handle the pounding of playing basketball again.
The newest member of the New York Knicks was inactive for Tuesday's game against Charlotte. Coach Mike D'Antoni said Bender will probably sit out Thursday's game in Chicago, too. But the 7-footer with the soft shooting touch no longer has constant bone-on-bone pain from a lack of cartilage and thinks now is the good time to make a comeback after not playing since the 2005-06 season.
"I had talked to (Knicks president) Donnie (Walsh) a couple months before and he was like, 'Whenever you're ready,'" Bender said Tuesday. "When I got to that point, that's what I did."
Walsh has been a fan of Bender since he ran the Indiana Pacers and traded for the high-schooler shortly after he was the No. 5 overall pick by the Toronto Raptors in the 1999 NBA draft. He enjoyed his best season in 2001-02, when he averaged career highs of 7.4 points and 3.1 rebounds in 78 games.
But injuries forced Bender to miss 172 games over the next three seasons before chronic pain in both knees sidelined him indefinitely in February 2006.
"You play those kind of mind games with yourself," the 28-year-old said. "You get closer and closer and I was like, 'I need a couple more weeks, maybe a couple months more just to get myself together and make sure I'm right.'"
Bender said he was invited to Knicks training camp, but wasn't ready yet. Instead, he continued a training regimen with Charles Austin, who overcame a serious knee injury to win a gold medal in the high jump at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
"The bone-on-bone sharpness feeling _ through rest and intense rehab _ it's kind of shaved those sharp points down to more dull points," Bender said. "I can bear to run and I changed everything about my workout habits."
Bender hinted those workouts with Austin helped him rather than going through a rigorous training camp. He said watching ex-Knick Allan Houston struggle in his comeback from a knee injury made him pause.
"I read how he got into that and hit a brick wall," Bender said. "It was super tough being off and then coming through that. So that's one thing that hit me mentally also. Just continue my training for a while and try to go right into the flow."
When Bender said he was confident he could play again, he talked to Walsh, and the Knicks signed him on Sunday. Bender's outside shooting and size on the perimeter could fit in with D'Antoni's offense. But the Knicks coach is taking a cautious approach.
"I don't want to just throw him out there," D'Antoni said. "He's only had a couple of practices in the last two years."