Thus far, the Mavs have done everything within their power to remove even the slightest possibility of a Dirk defection: Nelson offered to fly to him, they’ve met on Dirk’s terms, and according to a report from Marc Stein and Jeff Caplan of ESPN Dallas, they’ve offered Dirk the maximum contract value and length allowed. There’s no question that a Nowitzki-less Mavs team would be dead in the water, which partially explains the team’s no-nonsense approach. The implications of Dirk’s decision are rather clear-cut, meaning the Mavs have no business trying to step around the issue or get shy over dollar amounts. Re-signing Nowitzki is simply what Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban have to do to stave off the end, and there are no alternatives.
The same is essentially true of re-signing Brendan Haywood. While Haywood’s impact doesn’t even come close to Nowitzki’s nor is it as obvious, the volatility the Mavs currently have at center make him an absolute necessity. The end of days doesn’t have to be marked by predictable fire raining from above if the understated earth swallows everything whole. Dallas needs a solid 5 going into next season, and Brendan is more than that. Should they lose him however, it not only means a likely downgrade at center, but a complete compromise of all of the Mavs’ other off-season plans.
If Dallas loses Haywood to another suitor, re-signing Dampier after his inevitable trade becomes much more likely, as does using Damp’s contract to net a replacement center. Andris Biedrins and Al Jefferson are the most convenient names available, and while both are effective players, they’re not quite talented enough to justify the costs. In such a scenario, the Mavs would essentially be swapping out Haywood, Dampier, and the chance of netting a valuable player via Dampier’s contract for a stop-gap center; rather than using their available funds to shore up the house’s overall structure, they’d simply be putting an ill-fitting column in the middle of everything with the hope that it holds.
While it’s never a wise negotiating tactic to blindly meet all of the other party’s demands, the Mavs really need to work with Brendan on this one. In fact, the Nowitzki-Haywood negotiations may be a little bit backwards; while Cuban and Nelson would never want to seem ungrateful for all Dirk has done in Dallas and probably shouldn’t take unnecessary risks, they have a far greater margin for error with Nowitzki than they do with Haywood. Dirk wants to stay with the Dallas Mavericks, whereas Haywood wants to go with whoever is willing to give him his desired role and paycheck. If it’s the Mavs, fantastic. If not, he’ll simply move on.
Dallas can’t afford for him to, which is what makes the reported dissonance in negotiations a bit worrisome. It’s still quite early in the process and I wouldn’t expect both sides to be on the same page immediately, but clear progress needs to be made before one of Brendan’s suitors — be it Miami, Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, or another team yet to be named — swoops in with an overwhelming offer. Maybe that would be Miami, with a chance to play alongside Dwyane Wade while making a good chunk of change. Maybe that would be with Boston, where he’d be the starting center on a team looking to make another run at the Finals. Maybe it would be with a re-signed LeBron in Cleveland, as the undisputed man in the middle in Detroit, or on any team where the money or opportunity strikes him.
While Dallas may be the only franchise that can currently boast both an established, winning roster and a salary to Brendan’s liking, that may not be good enough. The idea of the Mavs continuing in free agency without a center secured for next year is positively frightening, and my hope is that if push comes to shove, Cuban and Nelson aren’t afraid to show him the quan. Whether Haywood ends up signing a contract for $8 million per or $10 million per isn’t nearly as important as the fact that he ends up signing it with the Mavs, and if Cuban has to go a bit overboard to get it done, I’ll have no objections. The paychecks don’t come out of my bank account, but if Dallas is committed to competing now with the current core, Haywood needs to be a part of it.