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Xavier Henry Elevates Game, Mind And Body In Redemptive Season With Lakers

Xavier Henry exited the doctor’s examination room and impatiently clenched his hand, fearing his wrist lacked the capacity to allow him to finish a resurrecting season. Moments later, his doctor emerged from an office, eyed the wrist and looked toward a young NBA journeyman on his third team in four years.

“Xavier, you need surgery,” the doctor told Henry.

Henry had known his past wrist injuries that alleviated within a week were nothing like this sharp pain in his left shooting wrist, and he heard from the doctor that it was as severe as possible – short of a fracture. He was diagnosed with a torn ligament on March 22 and prescribed a surgery timetable of sooner than later. From Kobe Bryant to Luol Deng, Henry heard about players passing on wrist surgery, testing their pain tolerance and, slowly, curing the ligaments.

And still, Henry had been informed his ligament had ruptured too seriously, beyond the grasp of natural healing.

If he wanted to continue playing, the Los Angeles Lakers’ trainers warned Henry he’d endure perhaps his career’s most grueling physical challenge. In the days later, Henry practiced in the Lakers’ facility and felt his wrist respond to the bumps and hits delivered on it. That’s when he says he decided, “I might as well play it out and see how long I can go before I get surgery.”

With the Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans, the lottery expectations with which Henry entered the league in 2010 went unattained. He failed to stay healthy, failed to produce when on the court. After this season, Henry will undergo surgery on his wrist and is unsure if his right knee – in which he sustained a bone bruise and an abnormality of the lateral meniscus – needs some sort of procedure as well.

For someone on a one-year deal, Henry understands there’s no urge to force him to play through these injuries. He easily could fix the wrist and rest the knee, and yet Lakers' coaches and teammates recognize his loyalty to the staff that gave him a chance to earn a lasting position and merit another contract.

“If the Lakers want me back, I would love to be back,” Henry told RealGM. “I love it here, love playing on this team, and we have a great organization. It’s been eye-opening for me, and I enjoy it. You always have two sides of things – I can’t always control whatever I want to in free agency.

“The wrist, it’s painful. This doesn’t feel like it’s going away, but I’d rather play in these games and give myself a chance to get better, develop with the guys and try to get wins before I hang it up and know it’s done for the season.

“And I got so much on my mind, trying to heal and leave it all on the court. I really want to make this last as long as I can.”

For three seasons, Henry had been a meager part and less heralded talents rose above him in rotations. He was a five-star college recruit fleeting out of a role in the NBA. There was an incoherent jump shot. There were rare glimpses of athleticism. There was a glorified role player at Kansas lacking a niche on the next level.

The Lakers came calling with a training camp invitation in September, and most of all, came pitching a wing reserve spot in Mike D’Antoni’s system. Between his first preseason performance of 29 points and seven rebounds and a 22-point season debut, Henry captured a roster spot.

Between then and now, Henry has averaged 10.3 points, 2.7 rebounds, one steal and 21.3 minutes per game – presenting a more polished jumper, a knack to draw fouls and reach the free throw line at an average of 4.2 shot attempts and a high-character approach inside the locker room and on the sideline. In a lost Lakers season, Henry starred in two of their best moments: a destructive dunk on Jeff Withey in November, and 22 points in 23 minutes in a 127-96 victory over the New York Knicks on March 25.

“I just didn’t get the same opportunity and the same playing time in the past,” Henry says. “I hurt myself early in my career … but I didn’t get the same kind of opportunities that I have now and I’m trying to make the most of every one that I get.”

Henry so wishes he had back those two months he missed due to his right knee issue, and sitting in the trainer’s room he would feel distant from the team. He remembers some past locker atmospheres; how everyone would forget the presence of an injured teammate.

This time, Wesley Johnson and Jordan Farmar made concerted efforts to stay updated on Henry and his knee’s status, and it made such a difference for him to receive their input.

“They stayed in my ear,” Henry says. “I was hurt, and they made sure I was on top of my rehab and made sure I was ready to come back.”

All but three players on guaranteed contracts for next season, all the losing for a historic franchise, and Henry knows the Lakers’ infrastructure has every reason to be toxic. It has every reason to be a despondent, scattered group.

“For a lot of guys on one-year deals and not knowing what they’re going to do in the summer, there could be a lot more controversy with players trying to go on their own,” Henry says. “But guys are really trying to commit to the team aspect, and I like that. The camaraderie is pretty good. We all want to win and we are all dedicated to working.

“It doesn’t always happen for us of course, but the games we have won, we’ve had guys play together.”

From Nick Young’s team-building antics to Henry’s unyielding approach with his injuries, this is what maintains the Lakers’ sane environment and keeps them communicative. “[Henry] is tough, he’s fearless,” D’Antoni said recently. “He loves to play, and he battles.”

No one knows exactly who will return to the Lakers in the offseason, decisions looming up and down the roster. No, Henry won’t be choosing between only non-guaranteed camp offers in free agency, so, yes, a bright smile fills the face about the excitement and prospect of being desired, of finding an agreement with Los Angeles management.

Whatever, Henry says, because the last weeks of a season and post-season remedies consume his mind. Out of all rationality, out of the doctor’s advice, he probably belongs most on the bench for good – restoring his body’s health – and still, here is Xavier Henry promising to play out a season with a busted wrist, a dragging knee and an end that removes those distasteful ones of years past.

2014 First Round Picks (Which Teams Own The Picks?)

While RealGM has an excellent database of the draft picks that have been traded between teams, I wanted to put together a summary more focused on the upcoming draft. For the sake of clarity, this version will only deal with the first round.

Atlanta Hawks- Have the right to swap their own pick with Brooklyn’s. At this point, it appears Atlanta will just keep their own and move on.

Boston Celtics- Have their own first and the less favorable of Atlanta and Brooklyn, likely Brooklyn right now. They have a future first from the Sixers as well, but it only goes this year if Philadelphia makes the playoffs. We all know that will not happen.

Brooklyn Nets- No matter what, they lose their pick without getting one in return.

Charlotte Bobcats- Their own first goes to Chicago as long as the Bobcats stay remotely on track (top-10 protected) but they pick up Portland’s unless the Blazers effectively lose out. The lingering question is Detroit- if the pick is 1-8, the Pistons keep it but if it’s 9th or worse it goes to Charlotte. My gut feeling is that once Detroit knows they will not make the playoffs we will see a push to the bottom reminiscent of the 2012 Warriors.

Chicago Bulls- Have their own pick and Charlotte’s unless the Bobcats collapse. The Sacramento pick they acquired in the Luol Deng trade is top-12 protected so it will not come this year.

Cleveland Cavaliers- Have their own pick free and clear and no other first rounders.

Dallas Mavericks- One of the more interesting situations in the league. By having top-20 protection on their pick (it goes to Oklahoma City if it falls 21-30 this year), the Mavs could lose their pick if they make the playoffs. Right now, the bottom seeds in the West look to be about even with the 3-4 spots in the East, so it could go either way.

Denver Nuggets- They keep the better of their pick and New York’s, sending the worse one to Orlando.

Detroit Pistons- Keep their pick if it is eighth or better, otherwise it goes to Charlotte. I fully expect them to understand the incentives and lose enough to retain it.

Golden State Warriors- Their first goes to Utah no matter what.

Houston Rockets- Have their own pick free and clear and no other first rounders.

Indiana Pacers- Their pick is going to Phoenix as a part of the Luis Scola trade from last summer.

Los Angeles Clippers- Have their own pick free and clear and no other first rounders.

Los Angeles Lakers- Have their own pick free and clear and no other first rounders.

Memphis Grizzlies- Have their own pick free and clear and no other first rounders.

Miami Heat- Have their own pick free and clear and no other first rounders.

Milwaukee Bucks- Have their own pick free and clear and no other first rounders.

Minnesota Timberwolves- The pick is top-13 protected, meaning they have to make the postseason or have the best record of any non-playoff team to send it to Phoenix. At this point, it looks like the pick will be No. 13 and thus the Wolves will keep it.

New Orleans Pelicans- Their pick goes to Philadelphia unless it lands in the top-five. It will be hard for the Pelicans to jump enough of the teams “ahead” of them, but they still have a shot of jumping them in the lottery itself.

New York Knicks- They lose their pick no matter what, though the destination could change.

Oklahoma City Thunder- They have their own pick and get Dallas’ first if it ends up between 21 and 30, certainly a possibility.

Orlando Magic- Retain their own pick and get the less favorable of Denver and New York’s selections. This could end up swinging on whether the Knicks can make the playoffs- if they do, the pick falls a few spots to No. 15.

Philadelphia 76ers- They keep their own pick as long as they miss the playoffs (just a formality at this point) and pick up one from New Orleans as long as it falls outside the top five.

Phoenix Suns- They have their own pick and Indiana’s on lock and appear likely to pick up Washington’s since the Wizards should make the playoffs. Minnesota’s pick has top-13 protection, so I expect the Suns to only end up with three this year.

Portland Trail Blazers- Their pick is going to Charlotte unless the Blazers have a truly epic collapse.

Sacramento Kings- Their pick has top-12 protection, so the Kings look like they will keep it even if they rattle off some late-season wins.

San Antonio Spurs- Have their own pick free and clear and no other first rounders.

Toronto Raptors- Have their own pick free and clear and no other first rounders.

Utah Jazz- They have both their own pick and Golden State’s.

Washington Wizards- They will send their pick to Phoenix barring a major letdown.

The Third Contract

While justifiable and collectively bargained, the last two CBAs possess a few particularly interesting processes that have huge effects on decision-making. Some of these, like the Chandler Parsons situation (where the Rockets can pick up his super cheap team option and allow him to be Unrestricted in 2015 or decline it to have him Restricted this summer] and the repeater luxury tax get plenty of ink. However, one of the more interesting impacts comes from a more abstract place and deserves more attention.

In today’s NBA, most players have very little control over their destination for their first two contracts. The first typically comes by being drafted so the athlete has almost zero say in where he ends up. For high level players in particular, the gigantic disincentives in terms of financial security have meant that only Ben Gordon (not risking as much because a max deal was not on the table) has declined extending and spent two seasons in peril in exchange for unrestricted free agency.

These factors combine to create a fascinating set of circumstances when the second contract ends, as the best players have spent 7-9 years in the NBA (likely in the same city) and are just entering their primes in most cases. After having all that time with zero say, a vast majority of them enter the free agent market because the current extension rules are not favorable for young players due to limitations on contract length.

As such, the league sees high-level players able to be truly wooed for the first time in their professional careers with dramatically weaker disincentives to leave and a new CBA that makes sign-and-trades a less useful proposition. The combination of complete freedom and years of team control means that the third contract typically marks the first time we really get to know what a player wants in the short and long-term.

LeBron James and Chris Bosh used their third contract to join forces with Dwyane Wade and have reached the NBA Finals  in every season since The Decision.

Dwight Howard spurned the Lakers to make the Rockets a new Western Conference contender.

Ten years ago, Kobe Bryant publicly flirted with the Clippers before returning to the Lakers.

The third contract carries so much intrigue because as much as we think we know about NBA players, they never have the choices available to them earlier in their careers. There are plenty of valid reasons for someone to select their next location: team quality, connections with their current team, a good front office and/or coach, and a nice city to live in often carry weight in these circumstances. That said, each and every individual values those factors in different ways and can see the same landscape meaningfully differently. Thanks to a confluence of events from David Kahn not putting a five-year deal on the table for Kevin Love to opposing teams being restricted to offering four-year offer sheets, the next few summers will be full of tantalizing young talent finally gaining the freedom to go where they want.

Summer of 2014

All-Star snub Kyle Lowry looks to capitalize on a big season by being an unrestricted free agent for the first time.

Luol Deng and Emeka Okafor will also experience free agency for the first time since their second contracts were six-year deals grandfathered into the new CBA.

Rudy Gay has the choice of entering this class or the next one thanks to his big player option.

Astonishingly, Andrew Bogut would have joined this UFA first-timers group had he not signed an extension with the Warriors over the summer. Bogut has never been a free agent of any type in the NBA and will not be until 2017 with 12 years of service at that point.

While some people are already saying he may be close to done, Danny Granger gets an asterisk since he was a free agent this week but will have his first summer on the open market. 

Summer of 2015

While Kevin Love generates the most headlines, the third contract group for 2015 runs incredibly deep. Likely Defensive Player of the Year Roy Hibbert joins 13-14 DPOY Marc Gasol on the unrestricted market assuming Hibbert declines his player option.

If those three All-Star bigs were not enough, Brook Lopez has a player option as well and could leave Brooklyn if the team disappoints between now and then. His twin brother, Robin, will be in this class too, which could be something to watch considering their close relationship. In case this group needed another big, Robin’s current teammate LaMarcus Aldridge can select his team as well and should generate major interest around the league. You can add in DeAndre Jordan as the cherry on top.

Thanks to a five-year extension under the old CBA, Rajon Rondo will hit unrestricted free agency for the first time in 2015.  Rudy Gay, another member of the 2006 draft class, joins the group if he picks up his player option this summer. Philadelphia forward Thaddeus Young can add himself to the mix if he declines his option year while Arron Afflalo could be here as well if he declines his fifth year player option.

Finally, Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin will have a more normal free agency after back-loaded contracts as RFAs landed both of them in Houston while Wesley Matthews gets his chance after a “poison pill” deal put him in Portland two years before Daryl Morey got his two.

Summer of 2016

Kevin Durant gets the top of the marquee (as he should) but this strong group also includes Joakim Noah, Noah's Florida teammate Al Horford, and Mike Conley. Incredibly, Dwight Howard could be gunning for his fourth contract the same summer since he signed a deal with Houston that made his fourth season a player option.

Interesting starters like Ryan Anderson, Nicolas Batum, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Brandon Jennings and Eric Gordon (if he picks up his option) could join the party too.

Summer of 2017

Likely the first group of players to become UFAs under the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, Thunder teammates Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka and former teammate James Harden headline a group that includes Derrick Rose (get healthy!), DeMar DeRozan, Tiago Splitter, Taj Gibson, Jrue Holiday, George Hill, and Tyreke Evans.

We should see a vast majority of these players hit true unrestricted free agency since the current CBA limits the length of non-rookie extensions to three years after the end of their existing contract. Since these individuals should be good enough to get four or more, I fully expect them to maximize their potential security and enjoy getting wooed for the first time as professionals. This shifted reality could lead to the power dynamics in the league changing more frequently than under previous agreements and make July 1 a much more interesting time each year.

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