Brendan Haywood was back on the Verizon Center practice court, the place he called home for nearly 10 years. Haywood, the former Wizards center, experienced being Michael Jordan’s teammate for the legendary player’s final two seasons in the NBA, watched Gilbert Arenas’s rise to stardom and eventual fall.
He was dealt at the trade deadline in February 2010 to Dallas, where the Mavericks not only lavished him with a $55 million contract but also gave him the opportunity to capture his first career championship last June with a victory over the Miami Heat. As the final seconds ticked away in the Mavericks’ clinching victory in Game 6, Haywood, DeShawn Stevenson and Dallas owner Mark Cuban enthusiastically bounced and embraced.
“It was a crazy feeling, it was just a lot of excitement, happiness. Being an NBA champion is something you dream of,” Haywood said, describing the moment. He added that it was really special that he could share the victory with former Wizards teammates Stevenson and Caron Butler. “We went thought the 19-win season, so for us to go from 19 wins to champions was big-time.”
Andray Blatche was standing nearby as Haywood spoke and reminded him that he also experienced being a part of matching the worst 82-game regular season in franchise history in 2008-09.
“’Dray, you went through the 19 wins, too. You just didn’t get no ring for your effort,” Haywood said.
Blatche lowered his head, laughed and walked away as reporters laughed. But Haywood continued with the jokes, as he spotted the two gigantic canary yellow diamond earrings in his Blatche’s ears.
“But you got the good earrings, though, bro. What are those, double KGs,” Haywood said, referencing the extra-large earrings that Kevin Garnett often wears.
The trade has worked out well for Haywood, who is now focused on his own jewelry. Cuban had suggested giving his players championship bracelets, but they scoffed at the idea and prefer to go with rings. Haywood was excited about the possibility of receiving his ring on Christmas, when Dallas opens the season against the Heat. But when he was told that the Mavericks wouldn’t get their rings on opening night, Haywood replied, “Baby can’t have no Christmas?”
He then remembered that the Mavericks were never fitted for rings after winning the championship and also never saw anything close to a design. “We don’t know if Mark Cuban is going to be on this,” Haywood said, flashing a grin and waving, “or not.”
The Mavericks also aren’t sure if they can retain their championship roster, with Butler, Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea all unrestricted free agents. “I don’t know who is going to back, who is not going to be back,” Haywood said. “I would love for everybody to come back, but it’s a business and you know that can’t always happen. When the signing period starts, we’ll let Mark and Donnie [Nelson, the team’s general manager] handle all that.”
Chandler, the leader of the Mavericks’ improved defense, has already made the surprising declaration that he doesn’t expect to be a member of the Mavericks when training camp begins on Friday. If Chandler goes elsewhere, Haywood would likely slide back into the starting center position that he expected to receive when he re-signed with the Mavericks two summers ago.
But if Chandler returns, Haywood could eventually become an amnesty candidate, though ESPN.com is reporting that waiving the 7-foot center “won’t even be considered.” Haywood said his hope is that the Mavericks can keep the team intact. “I’m very concerned,” Haywood said. “Free agency is such a short period of time now, things are going to happen quick. Before, it might have took a guy two weeks to get signed, now it’ll probably be two days, so I’m very concerned. We have a lot of guy that we need back. Tyson [Chandler] played well for us last year, J.J. Barea, so we have a lot of different guys we need to come back. Caron Butler as well. He was playing great for our team before his injury and I’m sure they want him back.”
In some ways, being back in Washington this week felt sort of like old times for Haywood, as he trained with former teammates Blatche and Roger Mason Jr. at the Capital Sports Complex and later the Verizon Center to get in some good five-on-five runs. He was in need of spot to train with other professional basketball players after runs in Chapel Hill, N.C. – which featured Rasheed Wallace, Tyler Hansbrough, Shawn May, Ray Felton, Kyrie Irving, Nolan Smith, Chris Wilcox and Josh Powell, among others – came to an end once the college basketball season began.
“I tried to stay in shape, doing a lot of cardio, lifting, on-court work and I’m playing as much basketball as I can right now,” Haywood said. “I just wanted to make sure that I didn’t come into camp overweight or anything like that so I wouldn’t sustain an injury. The biggest thing is to eat right and stay in shape, because you don’t have a lot of time to get ready.”
Haywood returned to his home in Charlotte on Saturday and plans to join the Mavericks this week. He is relieved that the owners and players were able to reach a settlement. “I’m definitely excited to be back playing. This is the game we love. We only get a certain amount of years to play and you don’t want to lose any due to a lockout or squabbling over money,” he said. “I think the casual fan will come back if they just keep seeing great action like we had last year. Last year was a great year for the NBA. Unfortunately, we came to realize that it’s not all fun and games. It’s a business. This was the business side, and sometimes business gets a little ugly, just like in the real world.
“It was very weird because you didn’t know if you were ever going to get a chance to defend your title because you didn’t know if the season was ever going to happen,” Haywood said.