Earlier in the season, I said it was time for the Charlotte Bobcats to move on from starting shooting guard Gerald Henderson. The 25-year-old, who’s spent all four of his NBA seasons with the Bobcats, becomes a restricted free agent this summer. With the surplus of guards in Charlotte’s backcourt, Henderson made the most sense to sell high on to balance out the roster with a different asset.
There were on and off rumors that Henderson was shopped at the NBA’s Trade Deadline. However, Charlotte apparently never found a match or rumors were simply just that. Since the all-star break Henderson has put together his strongest stretch of the season. In 15 games Henderson is averaging 17.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists and shooting 44% from the field.
During that stretch Henderson is averaging 5.5 free throw attempts and shooting them at an 88% clip. He looks the most confident offensively since coming into Charlotte and has formed a potent duo with Kemba Walker. This is without mentioning Henderson’s above-average defense and athleticism. The former Dukie is starting to mirror the complete shooting guard the Bobcats envisioned when drafting him four seasons ago.
When Henderson hits free agency this summer, it’s a safe bet his agent will point to his play in the last half of the season, age, and defensive versatility as to why he should get a lucrative contract. Henderson is making just a little over $3.1 million this season. The Bobcats will likely tender him a qualifying offer this summer worth around $4.2 million, which is in line with what Henderson could make in the first year of a new deal.
Will the Bobcats be the team to give him that deal?
In eight years, the Bobcats have re-signed one player they originally drafted or acquired at the draft to a long-term deal. Bad drafting has contributed to that, but so has the Bobcats stay in the bottom of the league. In 2008, they re-signed their first draft pick in team history, Emeka Okafor, to a six-year, $72 million dollar contract. Okafor played one season on his new contract in Charlotte and was dealt to the New Orleans Hornets in exchange for Tyson Chandler. It was never known whether the Bobcats had buyers remorse, though it would add up given Chandler’s shorter contract at the time.
Since then Raymond Felton and D.J. Augustin were the only Bobcats draft picks to stay all four seasons of their rookie contracts. Felton signed his $5.5 million qualifying offer and bolted to New York after that season. Augustin joined the Indiana Pacers this season after the Bobcats decided to make Kemba Walker their full-time starting point guard.
Henderson will be the next in line to negotiate with the Bobcats and surely there will be a number of teams interested. Henderson could make a case for a deal similar to Courtney Lee’s four-year, $22 million pact with the Boston Celtics. Lee turned 27 this season, but brings similar two-way capabilities as Henderson. He could also look for a deal that’s between $6-8 million a year, especially if a team believes Henderson is trending up and would benefit being away from a bad situation in Charlotte. A sign-and-trade is also a possibility.
Another thing to remember is that Kemba Walker will be eligible for an extension following next season. Walker is going to command a lot more money than Henderson, especially if he continues to play anywhere near the level he has this season. Walker is going to be one of the pieces the Bobcats build the team around, and with holes in the frontcourt, Charlotte might be watchful of putting so much money in their backcourt.
Henderson’s recent production is bringing attention back to his long-term future in Charlotte. While the Bobcats might not be winning games, Henderson has the skillset to be a valuable contributor on a playoff or title contender. Henderson’s done his part in showing improvement offensively and having his best statistical season in Charlotte.