Two years ago, guard Xavier Henry had solidified his spot into the Los Angeles Lakers' rotation. During the 2013-14 season, Henry stood as a solid role player for the Lakers, as he averaged 10 points and 2.6 rebounds on 41% from the field in 21 minutes per game. However, that solid season came to an abrupt end in mid-April as Henry needed surgery on a torn ligament in his left wrist and a cartilage abnormality in his right knee.
Despite those surgeries, the Lakers brought Henry back for the 2014-15 season, re-signing him to a 1-year/$1 million deal. Heading into the season, there was hopes around Los Angeles that Henry could establish himself as a solid role player. However, nobody would be able to find an answer to that question as Henry ruptured his left Achilles in late November.
Now only 25-years-old, the former Kansas Jayhawk standout returns to the Lakers practice facility in El Segundo, CA, but it wasn't to practice for the upcoming season. Lakers held a mini-camp earlier last week, and Henry was one of the players general manager Mitch Kupchak brought in for a tryout.
"I think it’s a testament to a great kid," Kupchak during an interview with Lakers.com during the workouts. "That’s nothing new to us. We know the kid and we know what kind of heart he has. He’s had several different types of injuries and he’s worked his way through it. He’s still young enough to make a run at the NBA and playing basketball professionally, so we wish him the best."
"I’ve been doing a lot of workouts this summer with a lot of different teams and getting feedback and seeing how I feel," Henry told Lakers.com after his workout. "I’ve been feeling really good. I’m feeling blessed that I can even play basketball again."
After rough stints with the Memphis Grizzlies and the New Orleans Hornets where he barely got any playing time, Henry signed with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2013. He impressed fans and the organization the first time he stepped foot onto the Staples Center hardwood. In their first game of the 2013-14 season against the Los Angeles Clippers, he scored a career-high 22 points in a 116-103 victory against their division and in-city rivals. One game doesn’t dictate an entire career, but Henry’s confidence had to be on an all-time high.
Despite the impressive debut, Henry's performance started declining and he was sent to the Los Angeles D-Fenders in early 2014. When he was recalled back to the Lakers, His season was cut short when he underwent surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left wrist and a cartilage abnormality in his right knee.
After re-signing with the Lakers, Henry would not get the opportunity to live up to his $1 million contract. On November 24 after playing only nine games in the regular season, an MRI revealed a ruptured left Achilles tendon he suffered at practice, he would be ruled out for the rest of season. Three days after Christmas, the news got worse for Henry’s future when he was waived by the Lakers.
"It was unbelievably tough," Henry said. "For two years of injuries, for a long time, it’s depressing. You go through so many emotions. So many: ‘Do I quit? Is it over?’ I just know with the person I am for sure, I’ve just always been the tough guy that just won’t say no. I just keep going. The Achilles is one of the toughest injuries to go through. It took a long time, had little issues here and there, but now I’m great with it."
Almost one year after his injury, Henry began his attempt to revive his career. On October 24, 2015, he signed with the defending NBA Champion Golden State Warriors, but was waived by the team four days later. Not wanting to lose out on a potential talent, he was eventually acquired by Golden State’s D-League affiliate the Santa Cruz Warriors.
On February 19, 2016 against the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Henry made his debut for Santa Cruz and his return to in-game action. Although he wasn't playing at the Staples Center or Oracle Arena, returning to the court for the first time after a devastating injury had to be bitter sweet for the young guard. He played 16 minutes recording 14 points and four rebounds in a 116-100 loss.
In a March 13 game against the Delaware 87ers, Henry played the game of his career by scoring a D-League career-high 25 points and made a presence on the defensive end with 5 steals in a 132-117 victory. In his nine games played, Henry finished the season averaging 15.6 points and 2.9 rebounds per game on 45% from the field. Despite Henry's play on the court, the team still struggled in the win-loss column going 3-6 with Henry in the rotation.
"I’ve learned patience, not to get down on yourself and really just count your blessings," Henry said. "Right now, every second I’m on the court I enjoy it. I love it. No matter what it is, or how hard. Because I’ve been though a year and a half, two years where I wasn’t able to do anything."
With the Lakers signing forward/center Yi Jianlian on Monday, there are five more spots left on their training camp roster. A final spot on their final 15-man roster after training camp isn't guaranteed, but if Henry doesn't make the final cut with the Lakers, he could sign to the Los Angeles D-Fenders for a full season until he is called up. A full season with any team whether it's with the D-League or overseas will show that Henry is capable of playing an entire season healthy, something that has affected he growth of his career.
Not making the final roster could be devastating for someone whose worked hard to get back to rare form, but any opportunity Henry to get closer to his ultimate goal is a major step from a almost career-ending injury. With his age, familiarity with the organization, potential on offense and improvement on the defensive end, his tough journey for redemption could end in the place where his injury woes started. With a young team looking for a new identity, Henry’s Los Angeles comeback can spark new life in the young guards’ career.
"I’m back to where I need to be," Henry said. "I’m just trying to show everybody else that I’m back."