CHARLOTTE, N.C. — After four up-and-down NBA seasons, Gerald Henderson has picked the perfect time for his professional blow up — mere months before he becomes a restricted free agent in the NBA’s summer meat market.
It’d be easy to say Henderson’s riding the typical contract year wave, but this hasn’t been a season long thing. This is an end-of-season surge that’s likely made him millions and turned him into a guy the Bobcats are going to have a hard time letting go this offseason. Over the last nine games, he’s averaging 24.7 points per game on 52.8 percent shooting and has two games of 35 points and one of 34 in that stretch.
Is this the real Henderson or a contract-inspired anomaly? Are Kemba Walker and Henderson really the Bobcats backcourt of the future and a cornerstone around to the build their team around or is their recent success a case of being the only ones who can create their own shot?
Obviously, one could twist the story the other direction, too, though: Does being on a team desperate for scoring prove their value even more with all of the defensive attention on them?
And even more importantly in the decision-making process, what’s the Bobcats’ draft direction?
In a draft light on scoring big men, the biggest need on this squad, do you even bother at all resigning Henderson if you get the No. 1 pick and Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore is on top on your draft board? The Bobcats aren’t playoff bound, so why not redirect that coin to a veteran four or five who can score with his back to the basket if you’ve got to dump development minutes in McLemore’s direction anyways?
These are the questions general manager Rich Cho must ponder this offseason when the offers come in for Henderson and he’s forced to decide whether the Bobcats will match. On a team with so many holes, the end-of-season surge by both Walker and Henderson leaves you wondering: Is the backcourt really the problem on a team whose starting bigs average 12 points per game combined?
But there’s so many variables to the equation of whether to resign Henderson and build around he and Walker, like owing your backup backcourt of Ramon Sessions and Ben Gordon $18 million next year, collectively. Then there’s the problem of owing Tyrus Thomas $9 million for the next two seasons. Therefore, is keeping Henderson really the prudent thing to do, even if they’d like to?
Naturally, Henderson’s not going to admit that the dangling monetary incentive has provided a special hankering that the wins and losses column can’t provide, and that this play is here to stay. But the contract year is not a fact lost on him either. For now, he’s just trying to avoid the noise.
“Well, you know, it’s pretty interesting. I’ve never had to do this,” Henderson said. “There’s so much to think about, so much pressure should be on yourself, but when it comes down to it, you got to play this game hard either way. I feel like since I’ve started basketball all the people that have coached me have taught me to play hard no matter what and last year I did the same thing until the end of the year. And this year I’m going to do the same thing.”
“Obviously there’s a lot on the line in terms of that, but the only thing I want to be thinking about is playing my game, playing hard, and trying to win.”
But what’s Henderson think is going to happen? Does the loyalty the Bobcats shown and the comforts of the state he’s made his collegiate and professional home outweigh the desire to win immediately?
“It’s tough to say at this point (where I’ll end up),” Henderson said. “I know one thing is the Bobcats have stuck with me up to this point, so obviously if we can work something out that’d be a great thing. You know its just a lot of rules that come with being a restricted free agent. But you know it’s so many rules that come with it but it’s not something that I really try to worry about at this point. I have 11 games yet and I’m just trying to play my hardest and push the team to do the same and also get some wins.”
No matter where Henderson ends up this offseason there’s no denying it: he’s been a different player recently.
It’s easy to forget in this rush-to-the-NBA day and age that he’s only 25 and hasn’t reached his ceiling. The Henderson we’ve seen recently has shown a confidence unseen previously — aggressive off the bounce but also lethal with a mid-range game that previously resembled the ups and downs of his NBA career.
“I think at this point, yeah,” Henderson said when asked if this is the best basketball of his career. “A lot of the year I had an up and down year but I’ve been playing more like how I want to play and I got great teammates though. They push me to bring it every night and coach does the same thing, so I just want to win too so if me playing like that is going to help us win, then I’m going to try to keep it up.”
In a couple months, Henderson will add eight digits to his personal fortune. In the meantime, it’s to be determined whether playing like this in a meaningless stretch of the season will put him out of the reach for the Bobcats to keep him.