The Lakers, as they continue to fill out their roster in the lead up to training camp, announced that they signed swingman Xavier Henry to a one year contract for the minimum. Henry is a three year veteran and last season averaged 3.9 points and 1.8 rebounds a game for the New Orleans Hornets (now the Pelicans).
Henry fits the mold of the type of player the Lakers have chased this off-season. He is young (22 years old), a former high draft pick (12th overall in 2010), and is not only athletic but offers some positional versatility (he can play both shooting guard or small forward). Those are the positives. On the negative side, he’s not been able to produce much, on either side of the ball, in his first three years which should be something you remind yourself of if you start to convince yourself the team has signed some sort of contributor. Just look at his career numbers for verification of what he’s been through three seasons. That’s not the end of the story, but it’s a big part of it since it’s what’s actually occurred on the court so far.
That said, it seems that the Lakers, knowing that the market is thin and their ability to offer any substantial salary is even thinner, have targeted players who still have potential to tap and are looking to, in one way or another, redeem their careers. Henry fits that description to a tee as he was a highly touted prospect coming out of Kansas when he was drafted but hasn’t done much of anything to justify his draft slot. When camp opens we’ll see how much he has to offer the team with a skill set that still needs refining but was enough, combined with his age, to see him go in the lottery.
And, really, that’s the bigger point here. Henry has some talent and will have the chance to show it. Chance is the key word, though. I’m not sure if Henry will even make the team when the dust settles at the end of training camp. As of now, he’s a camp body who will compete with the likes of Elias Harris, Shawne Williams, Ryan Kelly, and (though not yet confirmed) Marcus Landry for a roster spot. If Henry, or any other of the aforementioned guys, can show that they have enough potential to possibly earn some minutes in the long grind of the campaign, they’ll likely stick. If they don’t, they’re likely to be jettisoned with little invested beyond some practice time and whatever partial guarantees may exist on their contract.
But make no mistake, players like Henry are worth the gamble. Unlike a certain former #2 overall pick who was just paid to go away by the Suns, Henry doesn’t bring a lot of baggage to the table. Not in the form of legal issues or brazen attitude problems that flatlined what should have been a promising career. No, Henry is just another player who flashed enough skill in college to be drafted in the late lottery — a part of the draft that produces as many busts as it does viable rotation players. The Lakers surely hope that he, like Wes Johnson (and to a certain extent Nick Young), have the ability to come close to living up to some of what was seen in them in the first place.
Whether that ends up happening or not remains to be seen, but it’s not like the Lakers have much choice here. They only have the minimum to offer and there’s only two ways to go with that type of contract. They can try to sign young players who still have the promise of potential to improve or they can chase grizzled veterans whose primes are far behind them (the Drew Goodens and Mickael Pietrus’ of the world) and try to get them to sign on and chase a playoff spot. It’s not my money, but going after players who are, hopefully, still ascending in their careers with the potential that, if they perform, they could be part of a future with the team seems like the better play. Even if both approaches are a gamble.
So, in a month we’ll see what Henry has to offer. If it’s his career norm, no harm no foul and he can move onto another opportunity (if one exists). If it’s more than that, the Lakers may just find a part time contributor with traits they need.