Money Conquers All

Posted by Rob Mahoney on December 9, 2010 under Commentary | 14 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2010-12-09 at 3.05.23 PM

Basketball, like most other things in life, should be meritocratic. Those who deserve distinction, a role, or a buck should get it. Chalk it up to the American dream or whatever you’d like, but the fundamental notion that work and success should be rewarded doesn’t sound all that revolutionary to these ears, and shouldn’t be kept apart from basketball by a white picket fence.

Yet almost inevitably, complications begin to creep in, and for a variety of reasons the goods in this sport aren’t always doled out as they should be.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is sadly one of those times.

On Tuesday night, Ian Mahinmi and Alexis Ajinca played their tails off. They hustled, they scrambled, and they fought for every rebound they could. They were everywhere, even though thus far this season, they’ve been nowhere. Mahinmi and Ajinca were able to accomplish all of this on a night that was supposed to be Brendan Haywood’s; with Tyson Chandler sidelined by stomach illness, this was Haywood’s grand opportunity to show that he’s still a meaningful member of this rotation, and that the gargantuan contract he was given this summer was a wise investment, albeit one that has yet to pay off.

Haywood didn’t show any of that. He looked just as fireless as he’s been all season, and though Haywood grabbed a few boards and scored a few points (six and four in 18 minutes, if you’d like to be exact), this was every bit the Brendan Haywood we’d seen through the year’s first 20 games. What’s worse: he cared just as little, even when the spotlight was fixed squarely on him.

With about a quarter of the season in the books, Brendan Haywood doesn’t seem to care. He sometimes defends like he gives a damn, but his total effort? Particularly on the boards? It’s outright distressing, if not depressing. If another player in another spot in this rotation gave similar effort, they’d find themselves demoted. If Caron Butler listlessly floated through games like Haywood has, Shawn Marion would have his starting job in a few games’ time. If DeShawn Stevenson hadn’t grabbed his one opportunity by the throat and played well ever since, Rick Carlisle would toss him back to the end of the bench.

But Haywood hasn’t been taken down a peg on the depth chart, and that’s as much about what he’s capable of doing (playing great interior defense, cleaning up inside, rebounding effectively) as it is about the price tag clipped to his ear. Dallas doesn’t just need Haywood to play well because he’s the best back-up center option available by a long shot. They need Haywood to play up to his potential because that’s what they paid for, and what they’ll continue to pay for over the next five and a half seasons.

Mahinmi and Ajinca are hungry, even if they’re not as capable as Haywood. That’s endearing. Hell, Mahinmi’s 12 points (with 10 FTAs), 10 rebounds, a steal, and two blocks against the Warriors — that’s endearing. Yet nothing can ever change within this rotation, and it shouldn’t. If you don’t think Haywood’s stock could possibly fall any further than it already has, imagine throwing a demotion — in favor of the unheralded Mahinmi, no less — on top of it all, followed by Haywood’s likely response to such a situation. Brendan Haywood isn’t playing well now, but it can get much, much worse.

It’s a shame that this is the way we’re forced to reflect on a talented center and his fresh new contract, but this is what has become of Haywood. He’s no longer even displaying the kind of effort you’d expect from a second-string center. He’s being outplayed by both Ian Mahinmi and Alexis Ajinca. And without ample production to justify his minutes, validating Haywood’s playing time involves waving around the money he’s owed in an attempt to avoid a complete collapse in value. Come back, Brendan.

  • Andrew Tobolowsky

    Obviously, there's no doubting his co-tradee Butler's heart, though perhaps, at times, there is doubting his shot selection. But this whole thing has really made me wonder whether trading for a good player from a crappy team is often doomed to end up like this. If I'm Nellie, I'd think twice about trying to trade Butler for Iguodala, or whoever….

    • Rob Mahoney

      I think that's definitely oversimplifying it. Pau Gasol came from a pretty poor Grizzlies team. Similar things could be said of Kevin Martin, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, etc. It's not about the team, it's about the player. Everybody is wired differently, and the key is finding the right ways to motivate particular players and make that wiring buzz.

  • M. Wakefeld

    Before this season started I truly hoped that Mahinmi would be the backup center and Ajinca the PF behind Dirk as both had that incredible upside with added intensity. The only question for Ian was can he stay healthy? Now two months into the season I wish the Mavs would send Haywood away to a team looking for a big man. For the first time in my 14 years of following the Mavs (25 year old here) I'm confident in every position that's laid out there.

    PG – Jason Kidd, JJ Barea
    SG – DeShawn Stevenson, Roddy Beaubois
    SF – Caron Butler, Shawn Marion, Steve Novak
    PF – Dirk Nowitzki, Alexis Ajinca, Brian Cardinal
    C – Tyson Chandler, Ian Mahinmi

    That's a stacked team already and with Brendan gone I'd hope for a few young players to fit those 3rd string roles.
    This was a great article and also it pinpointed exactly what was wrong with Haywood, not the production but the level of effort given. The only time I see this guy animated is when he makes a dunk and salutes the bench. Mavs fans for long have gotten down on Dampier but at least even if he wasn't a dynamic personality he gave us the strong screens, run outs at shooters who were left open, boxed out the paint to grab rebounds… Damp at least tried.

    • Jai

      One Mr. Terry would be most displeased with this list.

  • Kirk Henderson

    I was really hoping to ignore this because I can only focus my Twilight-like angst against one person at a time and for this season its Butler. But Haywood. Oh Haywood, watching you play hurts me. It hurts all of us. I was so hoping he could break the Cuban-Center curse of massively overpaying a center. And to think, because of his stupid contract, we won't be able to resign Chandler or the other two centers when the season is over. I wish we could find a way to move him. He's the one guy who hasn't bought in to the team concept. Listless doesnt begin to describe him.

    I'm sad after typing this. He's not even worthy of my anger. He's simply not worth thinking about. He's an afterthought. And in a league where respect seems to matter a lot, that is quite an insult.

  • Mortimer Duke

    It's too bad that this isn't the NFL and we can't drop him like a bag of dirt, cause thats about what he's worth. Wish I could work hard for a contract, get a fat one, and then kick my feet off and half ass it, maybe quarter ass it for the next 5 years. Where is the pride? In the words of Don Corleone YOU CAN START ACTING LIKE A MAN!

  • econlibVA

    Truth is, I think Haywood is a bad fit for this team, as it's currently constructed. It wasn't always that way, but when the Mavs traded for Chandler and truly understood what they could accomplish with him, they became a different team and Haywood got left behind.

    The new Mavs play a lot of zone, shoot a ton of jump shots (well, that's not new), and rely on cutting and movement for all their points in the paint. They don't run a ton of pick-and-roll, and they don't dump it to the big man inside. Instead, there is lots of player movement and ball movement, and lots of outsmarting the other team on defense. Tyson Chandler is perfect for this, as he is smart, fiery, covers lot of ground in the zone, and gets his points from cutting to the basket and offensive rebounds.

    OTOH, Haywood is terrible for this team. He loves to both cover his man one-on-one, and get the ball passed to him in the post one-on-one. He's not vocal enough to be the center of the zone, and he's not a good enough cutter to play the type of offense that the Mavs want out of him. It's really a shame. Haywood is really a younger version of Dampier, and we just don't play that way anymore.

    So, I don't think Haywood is ever going to be effective as long as we use Tyson Chandler's abilities to play the way we play now. And we will resign Chandler after the season, that won't be a problem at all. The irony of all of this is that Mahinmi is good at playing center in our system. As we saw a few nights ago, he'd be a great backup center. I don't think that we should demote Haywood again to 3rd string center, at least not yet anyway. We need a larger sample to see if he can work in our system. But, I think that if Haywood continues to play this way for another 30 games (and Mahinmi continues to hustle like he does), I think we should demote him to 3rd string and look at Haywood's salary as a sunk cost.

    • finzent

      Strange. I agree with a lot of your individual points (Haywood likes to defend one-on-one, he's less mobile than Chandler) but don't get your conclusion at all (he's a bad fit for this team):

      - even if it's true that the zone is considerably worse with Haywood (I don't really buy that; I think it's played often with him on the floor), that's not really a terrible drawback since the vast majority of defensive possessions are still man-to-man.

      - the Mavs try indeed to get more points off smart cuts, but why this should impact Haywoods value is beyond me. You don't need your seven footer to make nice backdoor cuts.

  • jtshoopsblog

    The Mav's FO need an “upside the head.” This is like the second time they pay big money for a ridicoulusly mundane centre. U would think they learnt their lesson the first time when they were blessed enough to ship away Erick dampier for Tyson Chandler. The sad part is that the Mavs have no one to blame but themselves. They basically outbidded themselves. No one projected that haywood woould get big money. He was at best, mid-level exemption material. He has little or no game left and he has basically hit his ceiling. the Mavs could have even gotten away with offering him the veteran's minimum. anyways, C'est la vie!!!

  • finzent

    This anti-Haywood sentiment really surprises me and strikes me as way overblown. He's not playing at his best, for sure, but that's about it. My thesis is that Haywood is by far the player on this team who gets criticised the most for his weak games and gets no credit at all when he's performing well (one example: last night he was the best Mavs center on the floor and is rewarded with not one minute in the last quarter). Compare that to Chandler, where the dynamic seems to me to be the exact opposite.

    And the “he doesn't give a damn”-thing: Sorry, but I'm just not seeing it. He often has kind of a listless demeanor, but that has always been the case, no matter how he plays. The only evidence for the not-caring-theory is his sub-par rebounding, but wouldn't the reasonable reaction to that be to say that he should improve his rebounding, and not that he's a useless, heartless mercenary? Because that's the standard we use for every other players weaknesses.

    A last thing: If Haywood really is as sensitive about things like starting, playing time and respect as is often said (I don't know if that's true but it gets thrown around a lot), might it not be a good idea for a coaching staff to cater to that at least a little? If the theory is that his play and level of effort is sensitive to those factors, it strikes as even more counterproductive to bench him when he's playing well.

  • Bgalella

    Brendan Haywood has always been a dissapointment. He has all the tools, size and foot work to be a skilled big man, but he's just never done it.

    Not sure what it is, he didn't even make that great of a contract push.

  • Andrew

    I remember there was a time last season, right after Haywood got traded, when he was pretty consistently getting a double-double. I remember being incredibly impressed with every aspect of his game…his pick-roll defense and his soft touch around the rim, etc…
    And then he got injured and never looked the same after that. It's a shame that he is now doing so poorly because, to me, if he was playing as good as he could, he would be a better starting option than Chandler.

  • mavs fan

    currently watching mavs @ orlando and i totally agree with you. im so angry with haywood. he is so unmotivated, i cant believe it…really. how could we give him such a big contract. but i think he should get out of the rotation, just to show that he cant go on like this. i just hope he will find his way soon or we can trade him to another team very soon…

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