At first, the injuries sustained by the Los Angeles Lakers were crippling. But now, they are actually putting the team in a very good position to improve heading into next season.
I'm not a supporter of mailing it in. The point of basketball—the point of any sport, really—is to compete every single time you face competition. Therefore, tanking for a high draft pick is not something I condone.
Receiving a high draft pick simply because of a lack of healthy talent is an entirely different story, however. With the latest injury to Xavier Henry, that's the exact situation in which the Lakers currently find themselves.
Henry sustained a torn ligament in his shooting wrist on Friday night, and Mike Trudell of Lakers.com tweeted that he'll see a hand specialist on Monday:
1/2: Results of an MRI on Xavier Henry's left (shooting) wrist revealed a torn ligament. He'll be examined by a hand specialist on Monday.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) March 23, 2014
The guard gave Mark Medina of Inside SoCal the impression that he'd try playing through it: "It’s pretty sore and tender, but what can I do. I just have to battle through this as well."
Alas, Henry won't be playing. It's honestly best for the team at this point.
Given the fact that the Lakes are currently 23-46, there really isn't much for them to play for. Henry's 10.1 points per game aren't going to push them into the playoffs. Heck, not even 25 points per game from a healthy Kobe Bryant would get them into the playoffs at this point.
Without Henry, this is what the Lakers' starting five will likely look like from here on out:
|Point Guard||Kendall Marshall|
|Shooting Guard||Kent Bazemore|
|Small Forward||Jodie Meeks|
|Power Forward||Wesley Johnson|
That's not a team that's going to compete with a ton of consistency. That's a team that is poised to receive a lottery pick—and a high one, at that.
For argument's sake, let's say the Lakers end up with the No. 5 pick in the 2014 NBA draft. With that pick, the team will have a bevy of options. Selecting a point guard is best for the future of the franchise, though, so expect them to look toward Dante Exum from Australia or Marcus Smart from Oklahoma State.
Steve Nash claims that he wants to play next season, per Grantland.com (h/t SI.com's Ben Golliver), which would give either Exum or Smart the perfect mentor to play under. Both young facilitators act as scorers as well, but Nash can help improve their passing ability and awareness.
Should the Lakers give Mike D'Antoni another year as head coach? Kobe Bryant paused and said, "Um, I don’t know." http://t.co/0Fw12reqCL— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) March 20, 2014
Bryant will also be healthy next season, and you can expect him to have a huge chip on his shoulder after missing all but six games this year.
In a news release, via Sam Amick of USA Today, Bryant said he'd be ready for training camp: "Obviously this has been a frustrating and disappointing season, but I appreciate all the support I've received from the Lakers and the fans, and look forward to being back and ready for the start of training camp."
Can the Lakers compete next season?
If the Lakers are able to re-sign big man Pau Gasol, they'll have an outsider's chance at competing. Their window might be closing, but a core of Bryant, Nash and Gasol can still compete when helped out by the likes of Exum/Smart and Henry should the latter decide to re-sign with the team as well.
While the Henry injury might hurt the current team, it has set this team up well entering the NBA draft. With a higher pick, the Lakers can focus their efforts on scouting and making the best possible decision for 2014-15 and beyond.
Look for Henry and the rest of the Lakers to come back stronger—and healthier—next season.