Mavs' big men embrace tag-team approach

Who cares which center starts for the Mavericks?

Well, Brendan Haywood does, at least a little.

“I would like to, but hey, I’m going to go ahead and try to be effective no matter what,” Haywood said.

Part of the free agency recruiting pitch to Haywood was a promise that he’d be the starter, as the roster was constructed at the time. It was important to Haywood after Erick Dampier started most of the games down the stretch last season. But that was before the trade for Tyson Chandler.

It’s tough to tell which way coach Rick Carlisle is leaning now. Haywood and Chandler have split the starts during the preseason. Carlisle simply says the Mavs will need both to perform well for the team to have a chance to reach its potential.

Chandler, for the record, is fine with coming off the bench.

“I just want to make this team as competitive as possible,” Chandler said. “Whether it’s me starting or coming off the bench, whatever it is, I’m going to give my all while I’m out there.”

It’s not like Haywood is taking the “I just work here” approach again. He’s happy after cashing in this summer on a contract that will pay him more than $8 million per year over at least the next five seasons. His preference is to start, but he doesn’t intend to make it an issue.

Haywood and Chandler, who had some heated moments during their days as young Eastern Conference rivals, have formed a friendship and embraced Carlisle’s tag-team approach. Haywood pointed to the fact that Chandler got called for a technical foul while arguing a call against Haywood from the bench as evidence of their bond.

“At the end of the day, it’s not a competition,” Haywood said. “When he’s in there, he’s trying to do his best possible to help this team win. When I’m in there, I’m trying to do the best possible. The coaching staff decides the minutes.”

Added Chandler: “We need to be on the same page, and we need to be a force for every minute that we’re out there. Every minute that we’re out there, we need to make our presence felt.”