Here’s the deal on Gerald Henderson and the Charlotte Hornets: He’s a little disappointed in how he played last season but welcomed his team signing free-agent shooting guard Lance Stephenson last month.
Does he still want to start? Of course, but whatever coach Steve Clifford decides next season, Henderson says he’ll compete, contribute and keep his head on straight.
Henderson did a telephone interview with the Observer Tuesday afternoon on the occasion of his completing course work at Duke (a psychology degree) and hosting a first-time charity golf tournament at Ballantyne Resort Aug. 22.
He anticipated the questions about the Stephenson signing, and whether that might eventually make him obsolete.
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He responded with candor and a positive spirit.
First off, he agrees with Hornets fans who say he didn’t play particularly well last season.
“I don’t feel I played my best. It was an up-and-down year,” said Henderson, who averaged 14 points, shooting 43.3 percent from the field and 34.8 percent from 3-point range.
“For how I played the last 30 to 40 games of the 2012-13 season, I just didn’t play as well.”
Henderson is five seasons into his NBA career in Charlotte. He’s under contract to the Hornets the next two season ($6 million per, the 2015-16 season at his option).
The Hornets have a crowd at shooting guard, between him, Stephenson, Gary Neal and rookie P.J. Hairston. However, Henderson doesn’t anticipate him or anyone else being traded between now and the start of training camp in Asheville in October.
He’s already played for four NBA coaches. Last season was about adapting to center Al Jefferson, an offensive force whose skills mean he should touch the ball nearly every possession.
“He’s the best player I’ve ever played with,” said Henderson of third-team All-NBA Jefferson. “Our adjustment was about what we should do when he can’t put the ball in the basket because of how many (defenders) are around him.”
Now the adjustment is to Stephenson, whom the Hornets signed to a three-season, $27.4 million contract (the last season at the Hornets’ option). It’s a natural assumption the Hornets plan to start the 6-foot-5 Stephenson, who averaged 13.8 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.6 assists for the Indiana Pacers last season.
Henderson started 190 of 200 games played over the past three seasons. He averaged just more than 32 minutes per game in that span. How would he adapt if he loses his starting spot and plays less?
Just fine, Henderson said. That’s something he learned his freshman season at Duke, playing for coach Mike Krzyzewski.
“I got this from Coach K: That you do as well as you can in the time you’re given. If you deserve more time, you’ll earn it,” Henderson said.
“Guys want your spot. Competition is good. I’m going to play the same game and be as effective as I can, in whatever time I get.”
Henderson said he met with Clifford on Tuesday to discuss these issues. “Me and coach Clifford are on the same wavelength,” he said.
Clifford was asked about Henderson the day of the Stephenson signing. His reply: “It’s going to impact a number of guys – Lance can play (shooting guard or small forward).
“We have a number of wing players who will now have added competition for playing time. One of my priorities for the remainder of the summer is figuring how to put that together.”
Henderson said the positive is he, Stephenson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Jeff Taylor are interchangeable enough that any two could play together.
After suffering through a 21-120 two-season record before Clifford’s arrival, Henderson and point guard Kemba Walker went to their new coach saying how sick they were of losing. So Henderson knows it would be hypocritical now to feel threatened by Stephenson’s presence.
“What’s important is how these guys shape a winning basketball team,” Henderson said. “Make plays and don’t worry about the other stuff. Be (players) who want to win.”