LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 04: Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers goes up for a shot as Brendan Haywood #33 of the Dallas Mavericks goes for the block in Game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 4, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
To be fair, Brendan Haywood got a bit unlucky.
A starter practically his entire life, Haywood muddled around some fairly mediocre Washington Wizard teams, most prominently known for their flashy regular seasons and dud playoff outings.
Not that Haywood was completely exempt for those struggles. The 20th overall pick in 2001, Haywood always seemed to scrape just the surface of his potential. A long, seven-foot tall center with decent mobility and an ability to protect the rim, Haywood never really emerged anything more than a fringe starter in Washington.
In his first eight seasons, Haywood never averaged double figures in rebounds per 36 minutes, only averaged double figures in points once and was the linchpin of a below average Washington Wizard defense. His impact was never felt during the Arenas, Butler and Jamison days and while some of that had to due with the system he was in (a more up-tempo perimeter oriented attack) and the players he was surrounded by (Jamison wasn't exactly a defensive stalwart at the power forward), Haywood's production wasn't fitting in with his physical stature.
Even worse, Haywood developed some reputations about his effort and attitude. Let's just say "engaged" and "Brendan Haywood" weren't used together often.
Regardless, the 2009-2010 season switched on the proverbial light bulb for Haywood's play. He set career highs in minutes per game, rebounds, field goal percentage, blocks and total rebound percentage. His inclusion in the Josh Howard/Caron Butler trade turned it into a steal for the Mavericks, acquiring two starters at positions Dallas desperately needed help in.
Going into the 2010-2011 season, Haywood was enjoying perhaps the best time of his career. Sure, the playoff success hadn't come, but he averaged a double-double with Dallas in his limited time, supplanted Erick Dampier as the starter and Dampier was on his way out - his ultimate value being a salary dump for trade.
Even when Tyson Chandler was the returning end of the Dampier trade piece, the consensus was that the Mavs simply acquired some roster depth, taking a chance on an oft-injured center with the hopes of supplying Haywood some short bursts of rests.
As swiftly as the Mavs had acquired Chandler, it seemed he was deemed the starter. I can't recall Haywood really losing the job, so to speak - from the Mavericks coaching staff, it appeared Chandler was something more than a back up and you can't help but feel Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban understood that even before Chandler got off the plane in Dallas, they knew he was going to be the starting center.
And, as we all know, for good reason. Chandler obliterated any dark and cold memories Maverick faithful have had of centers dropping passes and failing to rotate properly. Chandler soared, becoming the hero the Mavericks deserved and the one it needed right now. Haywood became a joke. A punch line whenever he stepped to the free throw line, Haywood's almost comical 36.2 free throw percentage exemplified the truly horrendous season Haywood experienced - or so most thought.
Throw out the basic numbers (points, rebounds and blocks) since Haywood's production as a back up was clearly going to decline. Haywood actually posted the second-highest total rebound percentage of his career and a career-high in effective field goal percentage. He finished well (even if his free throws clanged) and did a more than decent job of cleaning the glass in Chandler's absence. The problem, like always, was attitude.
Clearly troubled by the demotion, Haywood lacked any desire on the court to improve his level of play. Often times, the high-energy and very raw Ian Mahinmi outplayed him. His apathetic gaze even riled me up, wondering if Haywood's value would ever materialize...if there was any value to be had at all.
And as the playoffs showed, every roster spot mattered. Haywood's play from a statistical standpoint didn't meteorically rise when playoff games started (It actually dipped, 11.7 PER to 10.7) but his presence allowed the Mavericks to advance. Without Haywood's defense in rounds one and two, Dallas might have been sitting at home, wondering how to stop the low post monsters that both Portland and Los Angeles employed.
The trio of LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum combined to shoot only 45.7 percent when the Mavs faced them in the playoffs. Lot of that can be credited to Chandler, but it was Haywood who allowed Chandler to take a seat on the bench and the Maverick defense to not completely crumble. Sure, Haywood wasn't nearly needed against the quicker front courts of Oklahoma City and Miami but that was the genius of the Maverick's roster, able to adapt to any style of play no matter what the situation or the personnel required. Haywood was part of that, no matter the missed free throws or glossy look. He bothered Aldridge and Gasol with his length and countered Bynum with his strength. Haywood didn't always put on a defensive clinic against these all-star big men, but he most definitely did his best. One of the bigger fears heading into both playoff matches with Portland and Los Angeles was defending the paint. Chandler could only do so much and Haywood was desperately needed. He didn't wow. He didn't quantify the six-year, 55 million dollar contract. But he did what Rick Carlisle asked him to do - he avoided Dallas melting down and battling against talented and skilled post men.
Only 11 minutes and 16 seconds. That's the amount of time Haywood played in the 2011 NBA Finals. But as he had a stranglehold of Mark Cuban with the final seconds of Game 6 ticking down, Haywood's face told the story. Yelling into the air, a wide smile swept across his face. Haywood helped Dallas become champions for the first time, an overpriced necessity that quietly formed a formidable frontcourt duo.