The imagery jumped out on Xavier Henry’s shoes.
The Lakers forward sported a new pair of Kobe Bryant’s new Nike shoes dubbed the “Kobe 9 Nike IDs.” Beyond the flashy footwear that both showed affection for his teammate’s branding stood an important message Henry has tried to follow.
Two words were inscribed on the back of his left shoe: “Built For.” Two words were inscribed on the back of his right shoe: “The Grind.” Combine those four words together, and you have a mission statement summing up how Henry has approached the rehab surrounding his left wrist and right knee that he believes will fully heal within the next five to six weeks.
“It’s been a long time, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Henry, who has rehabbed since having surgery on both his left wrist and right knee in mid-April shortly before the 2014-15 season ended. “I feel good. I’m heading in the right direction. I feel all right.”
While the Lakers hosted a pre-draft workout at the team’s practice facility in El Segundo on Friday, Henry worked on a series of ball handling and shooting drills with player development coach Larry Lewis. But one caveat. Henry could only perform everything with only his right hand. The southpaw reported that he still has to build more strength in his wrist before using his left hand to shoot and handle the ball. Meanwhile, Henry has worked on various exercises that will help build balance to strengthen his left knee.
“It feels like I’m strengthening my leg the right way,” Henry said. “When I’m finally done with the rehab, I will feel good, explosive and fast and powerful. I like to play like that.”
That explains why the Lakers liked Henry, who averaged 10 points per game by showing bursts of athleticism toward the basket. Henry will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, representing one of 12 Lakers players that will face uncertainty on whether they play again.
The Lakers would like to re-sign Henry. But the Lakers are hoping to retain all role players on one-year contracts on relatively inexpensive deals to maximize financial flexibility for high caliber players, such as LeBron James in 2014, Kevin Love in 2015 or Kevin Durant in 2016. Meanwhile, Henry would love to stay here.
“With my mind on my wrist and knee and getting it back to 100 percent and as healthy as I can, I’m not too worried about the free agency stuff,” Henry said. “At the end of the day, even if I sign for $100 million, I’m not going to be healthy. If I’m not healthy, I’m not going to have fun. I have to be healthy. Then whatever happens, happens.”
Henry has dealt with unpredictable events for most of his four-year career.
The Memphis Grizzlies drafted him 12th overall in the 2010 NBA Draft after impressing scouts with his playmaking, shooting and hustle in his lone season with the Kansas Jayhawks. But Henry suffered a right knee injury that kept him out for all but 38 games. The Grizzlies then traded Henry to New Orleans the next season where he missed a combined 69 games the next two years.
Last season, Henry encountered more frustration with the Lakers’ losing season and continuous injuries. Yet, he finally discovered a place where he found comfort. So even if Henry does not re-sign with the Lakers right away, he believes he will still have the chance to work at the team’s facility. Then he can continue to push and live by the motto etched on his sneakers.
“As long as I don’t sign somewhere else, I think they’ll help me,” Henry said of the Lakers’ training staff. “I’m a decent guy and didn’t treat anybody too bad where they would say, ‘You’re not under contract. We’re not going to help you out anymore. Have fun with a gimp leg and messed up wrist.’ I think they’ll help me through it so I can get 100 percent.”