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Saturday, December 10, 2011
Is Brendan Haywood not center of attention?

By Jeff Caplan

DALLAS -- Perhaps proclamations about Brendan Haywood stepping into starting role at center for the Dallas Mavericks came a bit prematurely after Tyson Chandler's free-agent departure.

Even if one came from the head coach.

"He’s been a starting center in this league for many many, years,"  Rick Carlisle said of Haywood. "Last year was a bit of an aberration for his career. The fact that we had him coming off the bench is one of the reasons we had such a strong club and we’ll be strong again this year, as he’s a damn good starter and Ian Mahinmi is ready to step up in the role of full-time backup."

It appears that owner Mark Cuban and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson might not agree. Perhaps the Mavs' interest in a sign-and-trade with the Sacramento Kings for veteran center Samuel Dalembert has as much to do with uncertainty in Mahinmi fulfilling the backup role as relying on Haywood for upwards of 28 minutes a night.

Both come with their perils. For one, Mahinmi is a foul machine. In 487 minutes of playing time last season, Mahinmi managed the remarkable stat of recording nearly as many fouls (105) as rebounds (120). Then there's Haywood, whom teams love to foul because he shot about 36.2 percent from the free throw line last season. The term Hack-a-Haywood entered play more than once; tough to play him late in games if he can't buy a free throw.

The Bucks benefited from the tactic almost exactly a year ago on Dec. 13. Haywood clunked four freebies in the fourth quarter and Milwaukee snapped the Mavs' win streak at a dozen.

Big men brick free throws all over the league, including the most coveted big man of all, Dwight Howard, who is a 59.6-percent career foul shooter. Dalembert, steady if never spectacular in his nine-year career, has shot above 70 percent from the line in each of his last six seasons.

According to ESPN.com's Marc Stein, the Houston Rockets are the Mavs' main competition for the free agent Dalembert, with the Rockets prepared to make a multiyear offer in a sign-and-trade if their bid for Denver's Nene fails. The Mavs are interested in a lucrative one-year deal.

Signing Dalembert won't replace the emotional and, as Carlisle often said last season, the "spiritual" void left by Chandler, but it would give the Mavs a solid tag-team. Haywood and Dalembert combined to average 12.5 points and 13.4 rebounds last season with Haywood posting career-low numbers, as it took him some time to come to grips with backing up Chandler.

Still, Haywood came around and put together a pretty good postseason until a hip injury ran him out of the Finals.

One might wonder how Haywood would handle a bench job for a second time after thinking he was the man. Dalembert seemingly would expect to be the starter or why not prefer Houston? If the Mavs do land Dalembert and want him to start, they can simply tell Haywood that he's got a championship ring and 7.6 million reasons this season to keep on being a team player.