Haywood decides to stay with Mavs

Free-agent center Brendan Haywood said Thursday that he has agreed to return to the Dallas Mavericks.

According to two sources, the deal is for six years and $55 million. Sources said that because the sixth year is not fully guaranteed, the deal averages roughly $7 million to $8 million annually in guaranteed money, depending on incentives.

The Mavs acquired Haywood in a seven-player deal with the Washington Wizards before last season's trade deadline and immediately declared that they hoped he would be a long-term fit. Haywood averaged 8.1 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in 28 games for the Mavericks, sharing the starting job with Erick Dampier.

Coach Rick Carlisle visited Haywood's Charlotte, N.C., home at the beginning of free agency and assured Haywood that he would be Dallas' starting center if he re-signed. The Mavs are aggressively shopping Dampier -- who has a nonguaranteed $13 million salary for next season -- in the trade market.

The 30-year-old Haywood also met with the Miami Heat.

"At the end of the day, and I told [Heat president] Pat Riley this, I have never been around a better group of guys [than the Mavs]," Haywood said. "If a guy played one minute or 30 minutes, everyone was always cheering. Dirk [Nowitzki] is back and I think we'll be better as a team because we'll be together longer."

Haywood's agent, Andy Miller, credited Carlisle as the driving force in Haywood's return to Dallas.

"There are about six other teams that we have had dialogue with," Miller said. "Dallas emerged as a leader from the gate and continued to surge."

The Mavs also pursued center Jermaine O'Neal, who reportedly has agreed to a deal with the Boston Celtics.

Sources close to the situation told ESPN.com's Marc Stein that O'Neal initially had Dallas as his top choice but changed his mind when the Mavericks would not assure him that he would be the starter next season.

Despite O'Neal's longstanding relationship with Carlisle, dating to their days together in Indianapolis, Dallas was obviously intent on re-signing Haywood and could not make that promise to O'Neal.

Haywood played a key role during Dallas' 13-game winning streak soon after the trade, providing a much-needed interior defensive presence for the Mavs. However, he was inconsistent the rest of the season, when Dampier started the majority of the games.

There was speculation -- fueled by Haywood's "I just work here" comments when asked about coming off the bench -- that the big man had a strained relationship with Carlisle. But Haywood stated strongly he had no issues with Carlisle, who the big man said consistently communicated with him about the starting job.

"I never had a problem with it," Haywood said. "I understood where he was coming from."

Jeff Caplan and Tim MacMahon cover the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.