(right) was the top wing player remaining on the free agent market. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
After a strange and somewhat lengthy delay, restricted free-agent guard Gerald Henderson is closing in on a three-year, $18 million extension with the Bobcats, according to Yahoo! Sports.
That's a surprisingly affordable rate for one of the best young wing players on the market this summer (and certainly the best left) -- so reasonable, in fact, that this deal will likely create further cap space for Charlotte by way of undershooting Henderson's cap hold.
According to Yahoo! Sports, that lower contract value is in part by design, as Henderson left money on the table in exchange for a third-year player option. Even if his paycheck understates his on-court worth, Henderson, 25, and his agent were wise to take part in that exchange. The Bobcats have done so incredibly little to inspire confidence in their ability to construct a contender, making a contract out all the more valuable for a player in Henderson's position. His gradual developmental track suggests that he'll only be better in two years' time, at which point he can test the open market without the inconvenience of restrictive free agency blocking his path.
Until then, Henderson should play a pretty significant -- if still complementary -- role for Charlotte, as he fills in the gaps on both ends of the floor. He can run a pick-and-roll, take smaller defenders into the post, spot up to spread the floor (Henderson made big strides as a three-point shooter last season, and hit 43.6 percent of his spot-up threes, per Synergy Sports) and find cracks in the defense to exploit with cuts. All in all, that balanced game translated to a career-high 17.8 points per 36 minutes last season for Henderson, who could be an even more efficient support piece on a more talented team.
The Bobcats will aim to meet that standard over the next two seasons, during which Henderson will share the court with the recently signed Al Jefferson (he of the mammoth, three-year, $40.5 million contract) and the recently drafted Cody Zeller, on top of the collection of merely solid prospects (Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bismack Biyombo, Jeff Taylor) that Charlotte has accrued through regular trips to the lottery.
Grade: B+. It would have been nice for Charlotte to lock down Henderson with a longer deal, but this is a really nice value for a flexible talent. The Bobcats aren't yet in a position to know what kind of team they might ultimately become, but in Henderson they have a quality contributor fit for most any context.
If Jefferson remains the franchise's centerpiece, Henderson can play off of his post-ups with concerted off-ball movement and help mitigate the big man's defensive faults with strong one-on-one coverage. If the team's dynamic changes, then so, too, will Henderson's responsibilities; he'll handle the ball more or less as is necessary, and seems capable of filling a wide variety of roles as Charlotte continues to grow. He won't -- and can't -- save the Bobcats on his own, but Henderson's game -- and cap-friendly contract -- will allow him to roll with this franchise's evolution in most any possible direction.