The front office of the Los Angeles Lakers has a lot of pressing matters to deal with over the offseason—like choosing a new head coach, picking a winner in the draft and keeping an eye on Kobe Bryant’s rehab and training.
And, deciding what to do about Xavier Henry!
Okay, so the 23-year-old free agent isn’t priority numero uno. But every member of the roster from one through 15 matters, right?
And Henry, an athletic swingman, showed plenty of potential during a train wreck of a season—when he wasn’t injured, that is. On his way to having a breakout campaign after three disappointing years in the league, the Belgium native went out with a bone bruise in his knee at the end of December—an injury that kept him out of action for two months.
Henry attempted a comeback late in the season but reinjured his right knee and also tore a ligament in his left wrist.
According to a team statement, he underwent two successful surgeries on April 11 at the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic. The wrist surgery was performed by Dr. Steve Shin while surgery to correct a cartilage abnormality in his knee was performed by Dr. Steve Lombardo.
Henry is expected to make a full recovery in time for training camp—wherever that might be.
Thank you for all your prayers and support, this is just another opportunity to say I overcame adversity.. #NothingNew Great Summer ahead!— Xavier Henry (@XavierHenry) April 7, 2014
Unfortunately, for a slasher known for his ability to drive hard to the rim, nagging injuries and constant team changes over a brief basketball career have made it difficult for Henry to fully capitalize on his potential.
Like most of his teammates, Henry’s an unrestricted free agent. He earned $884,293 this season and could possibly land another minimum-salary contract, if Laker management is so disposed.
In early April, when it was clear Henry’s season was over, Dave McMenamin of ESPN LA asked then-coach Mike D’Antoni whether the oft-injured player had solidified his place in the league:
Without a doubt. I think he's proven that, by far. Now he just needs to get healthy and get himself ready to roll. I didn't know him that well. I'd never seen him play that much. He hadn't played anywhere, so I think mostly he just got a chance to show what he had, and whether it's an improvement or not, it's just getting a chance to showcase it a little bit.
Of course, D’Antoni’s no longer with the team. It remains to be seen what the Lakers will do with a young player who was once expected to do great things.
Born in Gent, Belgium, Henry is the son of Carl Henry, a shooting guard who was drafted by the Kansas City Kings, playing just 28 games with the team during their transition to Sacramento. Carl subsequently moved on to a basketball career in Puerto Rico and Belgium.
Years later, the family moved stateside to Oklahoma City, where Xavier was a standout at Putnam City High. The McDonald’s All-American made news when he renounced his commitment to Memphis in order to play for John Calipari, who had just left to coach at the University of Kentucky.
If you thought this is where things would really get good, you’d be wrong. Henry played just 38 games in his rookie season in Memphis due to a knee injury. At the start of the following training camp, he tore ligaments in his right ankle, requiring surgery.
In July of 2012, Henry had minor arthroscopic surgery to repair a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee. During the preseason, he strained his right MCL, causing a further delay. He wound up playing 50 games, averaging 3.9 points in 12.5 minutes. His contract wasn’t renewed.
By the time the fall of 2013 rolled around, Henry was looking like a washout—just another lottery pick who never made the grade. And, just perfect for the Lakers’ laboratory experiment, as the team was snatching up draft busts and other lost basketball souls on the cheap.
It was all part of a fairly logical plan—to sign reclamation projects to one-year deals, preserving future cap space and potentially building an affordable young nucleus at the same time.
And then of course, the 2013-14 season happened—an abomination featuring injuries at every position, a small ball style of basketball that delighted some and angered others and 55 losses along the way.
Now, of course, a coach once revered as a league innovator is gone, and the team is sifting through the rubble, trying to figure out how to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.
Henry, who’s 6’6” with a 6’11” wingspan, was known for his three-point shooting in high school and college. He also drives strong to the basket, often drawing fouls along the way.
He had a red-hot start to the season after three below-average years, and was used as a shooting guard, small forward and, finally, point guard after all the actual point guards had fallen to the wayside with their own injuries.
The best of his performances showed a balanced scoring attack and the ability to ignite the team by coming off the bench. There were some bumps and bruises along the way—like the night his forehead collided with Wesley Johnson’s leg, resulting in gash that required nine stitches.
All in all, though, Henry was finally on his way, averaging a solid 10 points per game, well above that of any previous season.
And then the whole thing went belly up due to injuries, just like the other stops and starts before it.
Should Lakers bring Xavier Henry back next season?
Is it time to simply accept a short NBA career at face value—a promising player who can’t stay on the floor? Or, do you take into account the Lakers’ season as a whole. After all, Henry’s woes were just part and parcel of a greater sum.
Xavier Henry never backed down this season. He played hard and he played through a lot of pain, until the team finally said he’d done enough and sent him along to the surgeons’ knives.
And while he’s had a lot of operations, none have been what anyone would necessarily view as career ending. It’s just the frequency of them, and the inconsistent play of a guy whose longest season to date has been 50 games.
Should the Lakers extend one more lifeline? The answer is yes. The team has a lot of empty roster slots to fill over the summer and Henry is affordable, available, willing and talented.
It’s a penny-ante bet that could still pay off big.