Wizards' Haywood Is Playing With 'Passion'

brendan haywood - washington wizards
There is no question that Brendan Haywood's performance and attitude have drastically improved since last season when he split time as a starter with Etan Thomas. (John McDonnell - The Washington Post)
By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Brendan Haywood insists that there is nothing different about him this season.

Haywood didn't hire a personal trainer or chef over the summer, and he didn't purchase the "Better Basketball" DVDs that are endlessly advertised on NBA TV.

To hear Haywood explain it, he is averaging career highs of 10.5 points, 8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks while shooting 56.2 percent because he is on the court more -- averaging a career-high 26.6 minutes per game -- and has been asked to carry a larger load than at any time during his first six seasons.

"There's nothing I've done differently," Haywood said. "I have always had a business approach to my work ethic and I've always worked hard during the offseason. . . . It's just always good to know that you are the guy and you don't have to worry about your spot being taken if you have two bad games. Knowing that I'm basically the five-man and I have that spot to myself right now and I don't have to worry about sharing with anybody, that definitely helps me out a lot."

There is no question that Haywood's performance and attitude have drastically improved since last season when he split time as a starter with Etan Thomas and averaged 6.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.1 block in 22.6 minutes.

Statistically, Haywood took a step back after steadily improving during his first five seasons. And his relationship with Coach Eddie Jordan, which was never great, deteriorated.

Haywood's main issue with Jordan over the years has been inconsistent playing time and a perceived lack of communication, while Jordan's main issue with Haywood has been inconsistent performance and immature behavior.

Haywood admitted that he didn't always help himself by brooding on the bench or otherwise acting out when he wasn't getting the minutes he felt he deserved, and this season, Jordan has made a point of praising Haywood for both his effort and professionalism.

"It's a growth process," Haywood. "I look at certain things, when I was coming out of games, that I could have handled myself differently, and that probably led to the way he viewed me and the way he saw me from that point on. . . . It's a give and take, he understands that now and I understand it also."

The two talked about their differences when Jordan and assistant coach Randy Ayers visited Haywood in Charlotte in September, and the dynamics of the relationship changed drastically when the team learned that Thomas would be out indefinitely following open-heart surgery in October.

"We had no choice but to work it out," Haywood said.

Though the Wizards undoubtedly miss the physical presence that Thomas brings to the court, Haywood and backup Andray Blatche have helped the team overcome the absence of Thomas and Gilbert Arenas to win 13 out of 18 games since Nov. 9.

Only the Boston Celtics, who went 14-2, had a better record among Eastern Conference teams during that span.

This season, Haywood has finished with at least 10 points and 10 rebounds in 10 games -- he posted seven double-doubles all of last season -- and his energy and physical presence at both ends of the floor have been one of the most consistent aspects of the team's play.

Haywood turned in his most impressive effort Thursday when he posted 12 points and 10 rebounds while outplaying future Hall of Famers Shaquille O'Neal and Alonzo Mourning in Washington's 104-91 win at Miami.

"He's playing with a lot of passion, he's putting a lot of work into what he's doing -- his free throws and his defense -- and I think [assistant coaches] Phil Hubbard and Randy Ayers have done a good job with him," Jordan said. "They have a good level as far as communication and understanding what we want as a coaching staff. I think he's just put his work in. He's passionate about doing his job."

Wizards Note: The team signed free agent guard Mike Wilks to a non-guaranteed contract yesterday and the 5-foot-10, 180-pound Wilks is expected to be in uniform for tonight's game against Chicago. The addition of Wilks gives the team 10 healthy players.

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