Haywood makes case to Mavericks

DALLAS -- The Dallas Mavericks' decision makers believe that Brendan Haywood can be their long-term solution at center. Haywood hopes to prove them right.

One of the Mavericks' most important goals this summer will be to find a starting center with Erick Dampier's contract coming off the books. Haywood, whose contract expires at the end of the season, is now Plan A.

The Mavericks would not have made the seven-player trade with the Washington Wizards unless they saw Haywood as a significant part of the franchise's future.

"Centers come into their own right around 29, 30 years old," Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said. "That's where he is now. His numbers show it. All the evaluations we've done of him show it. Hopefully, he'll be a long-term piece for us."

That sounds good to Haywood, who arrived in Dallas on Monday along with Caron Butler and DeShawn Stevenson.

"If I play well, I definitely see myself being here," Haywood said. "It's a great city. I'm going to be playing with great teammates. You have an All-Star in Dirk Nowitzki, and you have a Hall of Fame point guard in Jason Kidd. I don't know any big man who wouldn't want to be here."

The 7-foot, 263-pound Haywood fills an immediate need for a true center with Dampier dealing with knee problems. The Mavs desperately need the interior presence provided by Haywood, who ranks 10th in the league in rebounding (10.3 per game) and fifth in blocked shots (2.1). He also averages 9.8 points on 56-percent shooting.

While coach Rick Carlisle wouldn't commit to which center would start, he said that Haywood would play major minutes immediately. Dampier participated in Monday's practice, but he has had to miss several games since early December because of left knee effusion.

Dallas thought it had a long-term solution at center when it signed restricted free agent Marcin Gortat to an offer sheet for the midlevel exception in the offseason. They were surprised when the Orlando Magic matched it.

Trading for Haywood automatically makes the Mavs the frontrunners to sign him this summer, since they'll have his Bird rights. Haywood is making $6 million this season, slightly more than Gortat.

"We think Haywood is a quality center," Carlisle said. "Good centers in this league are not easy to find. Age 30 for centers is relatively young. We feel all those things are positives, and I would echo Mark's sentiments that this is a move with a look toward the future as well."

Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.