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The Curious Case of Brendan Haywood

10 points, including 6-9 from the line, 5 rebounds, a block and a steal.

It's not a stat line that jumps out at you. In fact, some players would call it a bad game. Brendan Haywood, however, does not. His game last night versus Atlanta is likely the best game he's played all season. He dominated the fourth quarter, more than even those stats show.

It's a given that few people expected that this offseason, when he was signed to a contract for six year, $55 million, when people were already declaring him the best center in Mavericks history, when he was Sharpie'd into the starting center spot days after signing. Especially once Chandler was acquired, it was easy to view the center position as locked down. Concerns for the back court and for who would backup the forwards were often discussed, but back then, the Maverick centers may not have been seen as All-Star caliber, but they were a solid part of the team.

As we've seen, all of our expectations got blown up from there. Chandler surprised, impressed, and ultimately won the job, while Haywood withered from training camp to the start of the season. He simply didn't play like he did in the previous season for Dallas.

Over the past few weeks, Haywood is starting to show signs of life. Finally, he shows stretches of last year's Brendan Haywood. So there's the question: Where's he been?

There's really only two arguments here, assuming you ignore conspiracy theories involving a secret injury, three midgets, and/or Tyson Chandler feeding him laxative before each game disguised as a protein shake. Either Haywood hasn't been comfortable with his move to the bench, and has struggled adjusting to his role and to regain confidence, or Haywood has been angry about his move to the bench, and has been sulking because of it. Let's tackle them one at a time.

Its true, Haywood is used to being a starter. Of his career 651 games, 472 of them have been as a starter -- 73%. From 2007 to 2010, Haywood started all but nine of his games. Granted, seven of them were in Dallas, but it was a different situation: following the trade, there was no expectation of him starting, and even in those few games which Dampier received the nod over him, he actually received more minutes in most of them.

That right there is hard evidence, but an even stronger argument can be made for this side by the lack of hard evidence. There are a multitude of reports telling about how Haywood has worked his butt off, spent extra time after practice, and has been trying hard to fix whatever is wrong in his game. My man Bryan constantly is telling people about how much work Brendan puts in during and after practice. There is no concrete evidence that Haywood has simply sulked and pouted his way through this season, but there is concrete evidence that he's been spending extra effort that had not been required.

Even Haywood himself seemed to say that this had been a problem following the Atlanta game. Asked about his great game, he responded "I just take it one game at a time and try to move forward.  I'm starting to understand what I'm asked to do there and I'm feeling more comfortable."

Of course, while there is no concrete evidence for saying Haywood just hasn't been trying, there are many things that hint at the fact that effort has been the problem. The first came in his one game team suspension after an argument with coach Carlisle. No one knows for sure what exactly happened, but its possible that it could have had something to do with disappointment and anger of being benched.

Just a few games ago, in the 87-86 win over the Nets, we witnessed Haywood getting benched after just five minutes, following a very ill-advised shot that he had no business taking. It was clearly not a matter of match-ups, either, as Haywood would have helped against Brook Lopez and his 24 points on 67% shooting.

Quotes from Tyson Chandler after the game also hint at effort being the cause of his good game, indirectly implying  that lack of effort caused some of his struggles (though if so, not intentionally...Chandler's not that sort of guy). When asked by Bryan about the key to the game, Chandler's answer was this: "[Brendan Haywood] He was focused pre-game, he was focused during warm-ups, and when he's focused and keyed in like that he's a huge difference for us, and like I said he definitely changed the game around."

This is not a rigid, pick A or B answer. No matter what you believe about Haywood, it is likely it will involve some parts of both. Perhaps Haywood was just adjusting, but maybe he did pout, if only for a week or so. Perhaps he wasn't trying hard, but maybe he's started to try in recent weeks and couldn't due to lack of confidence. Perhaps the answer is involve midgets or Chandler's laxative, but sulking gave him an increased appetite, explaining why he was gulping down those protein shakes. While we all hope Haywood uses this play as a building block, we certainly don't all agree why a game in late January has to be a building block. So...what's the verdict?