Xavier Henry #7 of the Los Angeles Lakers dunks in front of Iman Shumpert #21 of the New York Knicks at Staples Center on March 25, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.
Prior to his recent return from injury, Xavier Henry was a player that Los Angeles Lakers’ management had to be unsure of. Although he proved he was athletic and talented enough to play in the NBA, Henry suffered a knee injury that unexpectedly kept him out for two months. Coupled with a wrist injury, Henry was on the verge of entering free agency with a huge question mark hanging over his head.
“The two months where I was sitting, it was killing me,” Henry admitted after leading the Lakers to a record-breaking victory over the New York Knicks. “It was real frustrating. That was hard to watch.”
During Henry’s two months on the sidelines, the Lakers went from a team hovering around .500 with hopes of making the playoffs to a team that was 20 games under .500 and struggling to stay out of last place in the Western Conference.
Originally, the 23-year-old was only expected to be out about a week to 10 days.
“Once I first got hurt, it was 7-10 days…then, it lingers on. Two weeks, two weeks here, setback, two weeks, and it’s like, it hurt, but one day I just had to say ‘forget it and finish the season.’ I got to a point where it felt good enough to where it’s like, ‘just do it. You know you can make it through a month.’”
After slowly finding his feet and working through knee pain, Henry finally resembled the player that had started the season by scoring 22 points off the bench in a surprise victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.
Then, he hurt his wrist in a loss to the Washington Wizards.
Henry found out that he had torn ligaments in his left wrist; Henry is left-handed. The pain was constant, but the player’s attitude did not waiver. Even before his examination, he told his coach he would be ready on Tuesday.
“I’m conscious of it,” Henry admitted the pain was there, but that would not stop him from playing. “If I know I can battle through something, I’m not going to sit.”
Like the majority of his teammates, Henry had to prove he belonged with the Lakers and in the NBA past this tumultuous injury ravaged season. Although the doctors told him that surgery was on the table and inevitable, Henry postponed that option for a month in order to return to the team.
“I think there’s always something to prove,” he said. “I belong in this league. I belong on a team, and I can contribute and change the game. Right now, it’s proving to myself that these injuries aren’t going to hold me back.”
Beyond proving it to himself, he’s proving it to the Lakers’ front office and most every other front office in the NBA. Henry’s knee is not close to 100 percent, and he has torn ligaments in his wrist, but he still scored 22 points and shot 8-11 against the Knicks. Hobbled and physically broken, Henry still looked like the best Laker on the floor against the Knicks.
“If you can do it, do it,” Henry spoke of his determination to play through the discomfort. “Right now, I can take the pain, and I’m going to continue to play through it.”
Asked if he was the “X-factor” the team was missing as it spiraled out of control to the bottom of the NBA, Henry responded, “I try to be the X-factor. I know what type of game I have, what type of difference I can make, so whenever I get the opportunity, I just want to make the most of it.”
“This game is all about opportunities.”
Although he is only in his fourth year as a professional, the former Kansas Jayhawk understands his NBA future is at stake. Once a player falls out of the league, knocking on the door does not provide any guarantees that a team will even answer, let alone open the door.
“All of our guys have a firm understanding that we might never play together again. Who knows who’s coming back, who’s going to be somewhere else,” the 12th overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft said. “Everybody has in their mind that we’re going to be free agents in the summer. We have to show what we have.”
Beyond his skills, athleticism and natural talent, Henry has displayed toughness rarely found in the modern NBA player. His ability to impact games and perform through the pain only further proves that this kid deserves a spot on an NBA roster next season.
For the Lakers’ sake, hopefully, that roster is painted purple and gold.