Mitch Kupchak, the Los Angeles Lakers general manager, is currently in Israel scouting 7-foot Croatian prodigy Dragan Bender, per league sources.
Bender, like Kristaps Porzingis, is projected to be a top-5 pick in June’s NBA Draft. The Lakers have a top-3 protected pick, with Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram favored to go No. 1 and No. 2. If the Lakers secure the No. 3 pick, they could draft the highly touted Croatian ahead of California’s Jaylen Brown or Providence guard Kris Dunn.
Just like Porzingis before him, Bender is making rapid strides in the European pro basketball circuit, dominating the Israeli league for Maccabi Tel Aviv. As per the latest NBA Mock Draft, Bender is projected to go fourth overall to the Boston Celtics. (Watch Above: Dragan Bender’s early scouting video)
Lakers will have to buy him out…
According to Nicola Lupo, the only challenge facing Lakers, or any other team that drafts Bender, is that the Croatian is contracted with Maccabi Tel Aviv until 2021. “The only element that could adversely affect the interest of GM is the buyout that you have to spend to enable the immediate landing in America, as Bender is linked to the Israeli club from a contract expiring in 2021, with an exit clause for the ‘NBA until after the 2019-20 season,” according to the European site.
Last season, many GMs and scouts were skeptical to draft Porzingis. However, New York Knicks’ gamble has paid off immensely, with Porzingis emerging as a superstar-to-be and possibly the next major attraction at Madison Square Garden. Which team will gamble with Bender?
Granted that European players are always a gamble. Over the last two decades, the likes of Pau Gasol and Dirk Nowitzki haven’t come around every year. Some feel that Porzingis could eventually go down as the greatest European player ever. Will Bender and Porzingis carry forward Nowitzki’s legacy?
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