Backup center position takes another twist

DALLAS -- For all the praise heaped upon Dallas Mavericks starting center Tyson Chandler for his impact on the team's 20-5 start, backup center Brendan Haywood has experienced a chillier effect.

Wednesday's 103-99 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers took yet another twist for the man who thought he'd be the Mavs' starting center after signing a free-agent contract in July worth $43 million guaranteed. Haywood logged just 9 minutes, 58 seconds, managing two points -- on a pair of free throws no less -- with two rebounds and two fouls.

In the second quarter, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle turned to little-used third-string center Ian Mahinmi. One minute into his stint, Mahinmi grabbed a defensive rebound, ran the floor and was the recipient of a Jason Kidd pass for a running layup. Mahinmi played all of his 3:12 in the second quarter, recording the one bucket and rebound, while rekindling the notion that Carlisle might be growing weary of Haywood's underachieving play to this point.

After the game, Carlisle addressed the backup center position before the question could even be asked.

"The backup center position, I'll just address that. I think it's important," Carlisle said. "Brendan is our guy, but in situations where we feel we need a little more energy, quickness in the game, that's why I look to go to Ian. Brendan just had; it was a tough game for him. He was just unable to get much going around the basket and defensively, LaMarcus Aldridge is a tough matchup. Ian did a very good job when he got in there, but Brendan is going to be our guy on most nights."

Haywood's body language on the floor and the bench have come into question as well. He can look disengaged, aggravated or frustrated. Carlisle didn't agree or disagree with that assessment.

"If that's the case, there's probably some frustration," Carlisle said. "This guy's been a starting center for 10 years. We're asking him to do something that's a big adjustment. Shawn Marion has made the same adjustment, too. Brendan, he works hard. I guarantee you [Thursday] he'll be one of the first guys in here doing cardio and keeping himself ready. He's been working on his free throws, he knocked those two in [Wednesday], which was really big. He's still a big part of our team."

Not only has Haywood underperformed in terms of his season averages, 4.1 points and 5.3 rebounds entering Wednesday's game, he owns the league's worst free-throw percentage at 23.7 percent. It will take a welcome uptick after he made both attempts Wednesday. On Monday, Haywood faced the indignity of being hacked intentionally by the Bucks in the fourth quarter. Haywood missed all four free throw attempts and Milwaukee just happened to go on a 14-2 run that ultimately won the game.

"Well, he actually made his free throws [Wednesday] and that's big for him after the fourth quarter the other day where he missed a couple, so I was proud of him there," Dirk Nowitzki said. "He has to keep on working like everybody else. It's only December. He has to come in there, clog the paint for us, get some rebounds and if he gets the ball in the paint finish for us. I'm not really worried about him."

Haywood's situation changed after the Mavs traded Erick Dampier to Charlotte and acquired Chandler. The 7-foot-1 center was coming off ankle and foot injuries, but after a productive summer playing for Team USA at the World Championships, his high-energy emotion and play decisively won him the starting job during the preseason. Averaging 8.5 points and 9.0 rebounds, Chandler is largely credited with spearheading the team's defensive progress.

The Mavs have maintained that the one-two punch at the center position will help them contend with teams such as the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs. The Mavs have yet to face L.A., but they handed the Spurs one of their three losses on the season. However, Haywood did not play. He was suspended for the game by Carlisle and sent back to Dallas after engaging in a heated exchange with Carlisle during the morning shootaround.

Chandler said he can sympathize with Haywood and believes that his positional partner will come around.

"He's such a good dude that I think it's tough," Chandler said. "It's a tough situation because when you're a guy who spends your whole career starting and used to playing X-amount of minutes and now you're being asked to do something that's so out of your norm, sometimes it takes a while to adjust. I fully expect him to be able to adjust and really help us out."

Since Haywood's suspension on Nov. 26, he has mostly stayed out of the locker room before and after games when it is open to the media. After games he puts on his headphones and works out on the elliptical machine outside of the locker room. Other times he has declined requests for interviews.

Chandler said he tries to keep Haywood positive, but doesn't speak to him about his current plight.

"Not about that, moreso just encouraging him during the course of a game, encouraging him during practice," Chandler said. "If I see something, I share it with him, that kind of stuff. The other stuff, that's not my position."