Omega Man

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 12, 2010 under Commentary | 10 Comments to Read

Somewhere between the peach basket and this very moment, NBA players developed an obsession with starting. It’s as if coming off the bench is an automatic contention of a player’s nonessential value. I’m not sure whether it’s the spotlighted introduction, the respect from teammates, individual goal validation, or just a funny wrinkle in NBA culture, but guys seriously care about this stuff.

Let’s be honest, though: how many teams in the NBA actually start their five best players? There are several lottery clubs that are woefully lacking in depth for which that would be the case, but how about playoff teams? Boston, Phoenix, and Portland come to mind, but certainly a majority of playoff-bound squads have a more than serviceable reserve that rightfully deserves a place in the starting five, should those teams look to go top-heavy. That’s just not always the best approach, as match-ups, fit, and player motivation are far more important than who gets to fill up the GS column.

Still, it matters to players, and it affects their production. Case in point: Brendan Haywood, who for the moment is the Mavs’ back-up center. At first, one might be inclined to classify Haywood as they would Jason Terry. The importance of neither should be questioned, and it’s not so much about whether JET or Haywood gets the start as it is about whether or not they play effectively enough to justify big minutes. Terry often gets the benefit of the doubt in that regard, as shot-making is at a premium and there are few nights in which he’s out-performed by Caron Butler on offense. Haywood is a different story. In eight games as a reserve, Haywood has averaged just 22.9 minutes per game, which is a pretty significant drop from the playing time he was getting during Erick Dampier’s absence. That’s to be expected, but managing nine points and three rebounds (with three turnovers) in 18 minutes against OKC? Six points and four rebounds in 25 minutes against Portland? Haywood’s drop off is more than just linear scale.

It’s up to Rick Carlisle to figure out which buttons to press with both Haywood and Dampier, and though neither is producing at a particularly impressive level at the moment, at least we know Rick is pressing something. No one can accuse Carlisle of standing pat with his rotation and not challenging his players, because he has simply refused to hand out minutes on the basis of talent or reputation. He’s emphasized the importance of performance at every turn, and if you’ll pardon my use of cliche, that’s the right way. It’s impossible to say now, but Mavs fans can only hope that running a team the right way pays off, and that both Haywood and Damp will have productive playoff runs. Dallas doesn’t get very far without a functional center rotation, so Carlisle’s ability to put those two in positions to succeed as a tandem is pretty much essential.

Something else to consider with all of this is Brendan Haywood’s future. Haywood will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and the Mavs are clearly looking to retain him. Holding Brendan’s Bird rights gives Dallas the inside track, and the fact that Dampier could be moving on this summer should also increase the likelihood of Haywood staying in Dallas. Still, I can’t help but think that this bit of tension between Carlisle and his “center of the future” could end disastrously. Brendan “just works here,” but that doesn’t mean he’ll want to work here tomorrow if he’s not getting the respect that he thinks he deserves. That doesn’t mean that Rick should compromise his meritocratic rotation, but it’s worth noting that the Mavs are dealing with a potentially combustible element here.

It’s not that Brendan is some kind of troublemaker, but if denying him a starting gig is (in his mind) some kind of irredeemable wrong, he could very well sign elsewhere. That potential departure is where things are a bit flammable, as losing Haywood would not only be losing a starting-caliber center, but also a loss that makes Erick Dampier a bit less expendable. If the Mavs choose to trade Damp this summer as anticipated, lose Haywood, and can’t procure a decent center through other means, this team crashes and burns next year. There would literally be no hope of an extended playoff run, and playing Dirk in the middle isn’t even a remotely effective possibility. The long-term implications of Haywood’s “benching” are well-worth keeping tabs on, even if the entirety of the Mavs’ playoff ride stands between us and any real answers.

  • finzent

    “It’s not that Brendan is some kind of troublemaker, but if denying him a starting gig is (in his mind) some kind of irredeemable wrong, he [should] very well sign elsewhere.”


    Sorry, couldn’t resist. I’m the last one to deny that Haywood is extremely important. When it comes to defense, he’s pretty close to the Duncan/Howard level of excellence. But, I mean, if he’s really that much of a dick about it…maybe we’d better figure about something without him.

  • John

    I would much rather have someone like Gortat than Haywood if he’s just going to be a sourpuss when asked to come off the bench. He’s just not talented enough.

    I do appreciate the fact that we do not have much big-man depth, and Haywood’s departure this summer would only compound that problem, but we don’t need any chemistry killers on this team. J-Ho had his fair share of problems, only he was with us from the beginning and developed close relationships with Cuban all the way down to our bench warmers. Haywood, on the other hand, has had a history of fighting teammates and then bragging about it. If he wants to try his hand at free agency this summer, more power to him.

  • Brian D

    I don’t want to lose the most talented center we’ve ever had either Rob, but this read to me like you’re somewhat taking Haywood’s side on this one. Which I don’t consider a very defensible position.

    “It’s not that Brendan is some kind of troublemaker, but if denying him a starting gig is (in his mind) some kind of irredeemable wrong, he could very well sign elsewhere.”

    If he sees not starting a few games as an irredeemable wrong, then he SHOULD sign elsewhere. I don’t want another J-Ho who needs to be rubbed and coddled or he’ll pout and won’t perform. I don’t want to watch management/coaching go through another debacle of caving to another whiny-bitch player. Been there, done that.

    Every game that passes I can stand this 30-year-old child less and less. Like anyone else, I love the things he CAN do on the court, and I would strongly prefer for him, as a player, not to go anywhere. But the more I see him sulk on the bench, never cheer his teammates, refuse their handshakes and fives, and half-ass it on the court…..The more I think that I don’t want him back at all unless there’s a huge attitude shift. The Mavs in the Dirk era have almost been entirely cancer-free, and when they weren’t, the player in question was shipped (or at least told to go away) immediately. I don’t think this situation should be treated any differently.

    Until then, don’t mind the 7 footer over there, he just works here.

  • Justin

    I completely understand the importance of Brendan and what he brings to the court. However, he has never been known as a team orientated player in his whole career and is prone to throw fits like this from time to time.

    I believe this just helps to show just how much of a class act Shawn Marion has been excepting his role with the team and enjoying the opportunities that are laid out for him. Shawn Marion is a much bigger “star” than Brendan Haywood and if he can jell and be okay with not starting each game, it makes me wonder exactly what the rest of the guys think about Haywood’s act?

    Overall, I do not believe it is that detrimental, just was wondering about it a little bit.

  • Rob Mahoney

    @Brian D/everyone: Definitely not defending Haywood if that’s the course he chooses to take, just generally lamenting the situation if that’s the way things unfold. Something to keep in mind, that’s all. It’d be a shame to lose such a capable center, but if he doesn’t want to play ball then the Mavs need to figure out other options.

  • Andrew

    Funny that Marion is mentioned here–he absolutely has been a hero this year in terms of accepting a limited role. On the other hand, it was exactly his refusal to do that which took him out of Phoenix, off a team even more suited to his talents. So guys can learn, and in Shawn’s case I think it’s probably his getting older, still without a title, and realizing that his window there was closing.

    But you REALLY wonder about those Washington guys. Caron’s certainly been hustling, and the last couple games of consistent production have resulted in big wins. But Andray Blatche is kind of an offensive Haywood over there, now–one night he drops 30-10, the next night sulks his way to a 13-4. Maybe there’s just something in the water.

  • Fei

    I see the playoffs as the ultimate measuring pole for hustle and heart. If Brendan shows up, he is salvaged, if not, then he goes. It’s as simple as that, and I don’t want to waste any more time thinking about this ridiculous situation.

  • Shawn C

    Players go where the money is*. They may go Turkoglu on you once they show up, but they follow the money

    * Unless they an old vet hoping to coat-tail their way to a ring, e.g. Malone, Gary Payton. Deep down these guys know they’re at the role-player stage of their careers anyway.

    Cheers, Shawn

  • Kirk Henderson

    There’s not anything here in the water in DC, there’s something in the water nationwide

    30 teams is 6 too many for the NBA – the talent just isn’t there. Couple that with salaries that have gone far and away what the market would demand (particularly for bench players, if you disagree, look at our bench with dudes who never see the floor) and you get situations like this. Haywood is a good center for our system, probably top 10 in the NBA.

    But think about that… a guy as ho-hum as him (his best stat is is BPG) is top ten? That says less about him than the talent level in the NBA – it’s simply not there.

    Of course, these are macro level concerns Haywood could care less about. He’d like to get paid, and he’d like to play. You’d think he’d be happy not sucking every year like he has in DC, but, maybe we’re wrong.

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