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By Cody Sharrett - Sidelined by summer hip surgery, the start to Gerald Henderson’s first season as a Portland Trail Blazer was anything but ideal as he rehabbed and hoped to build a rapport with his new teammates. But once the veteran guard returned to full strength and found his niche in Rip City, the 6-5 swingman became an invaluable part of the Blazer rotation.

Just how important was Henderson to Portland’s success in 2016-16? The Trail Blazers were 32-15 when Henderson played more than 18 minutes this season versus a 12-23 mark when Henderson saw less than 18 minutes and the 10 games the 28-year-old guard missed due to either injury or rest.

For the first time since his rookie season, the seven-year veteran made all 72 of his appearances as a substitute, averaging 8.7 points per game off the bench and shooting a career-high 35.3% from behind the three-point line. One of the Blazers’ top backcourt defenders, Henderson won fans over in Rip City with his tenacious defending and high-flying blocks, in addition to his thunderous dunks.

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In his seventh NBA season and first outside Charlotte, Henderson admitted the Blazers’ improbable run to the Western Conference Semifinals versus the Golden State Warriors was his most fun campaign as a pro, being one of the elder statesmen on in a young Portland locker room.

“It’s the most fun year I think I’ve had as a pro,” Henderson said in his exit interview last month. “We had a great group of guys, high-character guys, silly guys and it was a fun year. That’s without even being on the court.

“On the court, we had a special group. We came together halfway through, really made it a special year all the way until [Game Five] when we’re playing against the champions, gave them all we had. Played a tough series, obviously it didn’t end the way that we wanted it to, but it’s a year we’re all proud of.”

Henderson enters the summer as an unrestricted free agent, and while he certainly enjoyed his first reason in Rip City, the Duke product is taking winning and his ability to make an impact into consideration above all else. Though he’s started for the majority of his career, Henderson admits he can be comfortable coming off the bench in the future just as he did in his inaugural season as a Blazer. 

“It’s great to start; starting the game is a special thing,” he said. “To be a starter in the NBA is a cool thing, I’ve done it for a long time, but what’s really more important to me is playing significant minutes in times where a team needs you and more of your impact while you’re out on the floor – just being a part of what’s going on. You look at different teams, sometimes the best player comes off the bench, it all depends on what kind of team you have. I’d probably say three or four years ago, [starting] was much more important to me.

“But whatever situation comes my way this summer, I’ll gauge it on what my impact will be with the team.”

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