John Henson has found himself in an odd spot, and last night's game against the Golden State Warriors did little to clarify his situation. If you missed the game, suffice to say it was not a good outing for John. He played just over two minutes and picked up three personal fouls in that short stint.
One bad game, especially against the Warriors, isn't cause for excessive alarm. But the terrific performance of Miles Plumlee, whom Frank called the Bucks' "best backup big" at the moment in our recap of the Warriors game, predictably had people turning some scowls Henson's way.
Let's be clear right off the bat: this was definitely the best game of Plumlee's season, while simultaneously being possibly the worst game of Henson's (if you can even call it a game). A moderately reliable relief pitcher doesn't get cut from the roster for giving up 4 runs in an appearance against the heart of an elite lineup. So the direct comparison is going to skew things unfairly. But, this is the second time in three games Plumlee has played well in a reserve role (he started but was mostly inconsequential against the Clippers), and he clearly looks like a capable player in his own right, given an appropriate role. If nothing else, it's a convenient chance to showcase a player the Bucks are reportedly ready to part with.
The implications for this season are mostly trivial. A change in minute distribution at the backup center spot isn't going to swing anything. What it does instead is highlight the persistent question of just what to make of John Henson's spot on the Milwaukee Bucks. With his $44 million extension kicking in next season, Henson won't just be a cheap defensive tubeman, well-suited for 15-20 minutes a night where he grabs a few rebounds, blocks a few shots, and drops in a few buckets. Rather, he'll be a quite pricey defensive tubeman, limited only to 15-20 minutes a night where he grabs a few rebounds, blocks a few shots, and drops in a few buckets. Financial context changes things, huh?
Interestingly, the only thing distinguishing Henson's situation from Plumlee's is that Henson played well enough in the last three years to earn an early extension, while Plumlee just tried to find footing as he was bounced from team to team. It's a circumstantial distinction that risks being afforded more deference than deserved, but by good fortune it does provide the Bucks with an option. Plumlee will be a restricted free agent this summer with a cap hold over $4.5 million less than Henson's guaranteed salary, and it seems reasonably likely at this juncture that Plumlee will command a smaller contract than Henson did, despite the rising cap figure (Henson's contract probably had a certain amount of "why not?" inflation factored in).
It seems unlikely Milwaukee would eagerly or maybe even openly explore trade opportunities for Henson, and doing so would be difficult anyway. He's not a featured player and his per-game numbers sit at about the same level as his rookie season. His per-minute stats and advanced metrics have always reflected better on him, but those are a tougher sell when we're talking about a guy who's never been a regular starter and has four years pending on his deal. And even if a decent deal could be had, there are obvious risks. If you're willing and able to move Henson, you're really marrying yourself to matching any offer sheet Plumlee might score in an exploding salary cap environment. Otherwise you're taking your chances with a draft pick or whatever cast-off big man is available when the free agents start picking their new homes.
In any case, the playing time for both guys is something to monitor over the next few weeks, and getting a few more strong performances out of Plumlee could really stir things up. It'll be interesting to see how Milwaukee handles Henson as trading season rolls in. A few weeks from now we might have forgotten everything these two did this week. But if Plumlee seizes a few more opportunities like he has lately, the prudent course for Milwaukee becomes clearer.