After Season Lost to Injury, Washington Wizards' Brendan Haywood's Happy to Stand His Ground

"It's great to be back," said center Brendan Haywood, out almost all of last season with a wrist injury. "You never know what you miss until it's gone." (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
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By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 9, 2009

He has outlasted Michael Jordan, Eddie Jordan, Kwame Brown, Doug Collins and Jerry Stackhouse. He has outlasted the bronze trim and the gold-and-black jerseys. He's outlasted the name MCI Center. He has outlasted George W. Bush. He wore No. 3 before Juan Dixon begged him for it. He wore No. 0 before selling it to Gilbert Arenas. He has watched a close friend (Jared Jeffries) bolt for big free-agent dollars and a former rival and sparring partner (Etan Thomas) get traded.

In case you haven't noticed, Brendan Haywood has been around a while.

"Everybody is gone except me," said Haywood, who is entering his ninth season with the Washington Wizards. "It is weird, when I tell somebody I've been in the league, coming up on nine years, they say, 'How many teams?' I say, 'Just D.C.' They say, 'Wow, that's crazy.' Because normally you get through free agency or trade, people leave their cities, but I've always been here. It's been fun and I hope I can end my career here."

Haywood is one of just 10 active players in the NBA to spend at least eight seasons with one team. He is the only player on the Wizards roster whom President Ernie Grunfeld wasn't responsible for bringing to town. (Michael Jordan acquired him from Orlando in August 2001 after Haywood was drafted by Cleveland and traded to the Magic on draft night.) And now, Haywood is in the last year of a five-year, $25 million extension and fully plans to enter free agency for the first time next summer.

The Wizards could sign Haywood to another extension at any time before July 1, but Haywood's agent, Andy Miller, said this week that they "have had no discussions regarding any contract extension, whatsoever. I'm looking forward to him having a productive and successful season." Grunfeld stated two weeks ago that he would like to keep Haywood. On Thursday, Grunfeld said, "We plan on having some conversations with his representatives in the near future."

As the Wizards prepare to host the Dallas Mavericks on Friday in their lone preseason game at Verizon Center, Haywood said that he wouldn't allow his contract status to affect his play or detract from the team's goals of an extended playoff run. "My biggest thing is winning," Haywood said. "First of all, if we win, everybody looks good. Second of all, I feel if we're winning, I'm going to have a big part in it. If we come out here and win and make some noise in the playoffs, that's what people want. That helps your contract situation more than anything else.

"I'm not going to play outside of what they need me to do," he said. "I'm going to take open shots if they are there. I'm trying to get my jump hook on offense. And I'm trying to get as many rebounds and blocked shots as possible. For me, I'm not the type of player to put up 20 shots. You don't have to worry about me gunning because I'm in a contract year. It's not going to happen."

Haywood is playing for his fourth coach since arriving in Washington, but Coach Flip Saunders still plans on using him as the team's defensive anchor, much like Eddie Jordan did. For the first time since he's been here, though, Haywood enters a season as the undisputed starter at center. He said competing for his spot always made him "fight ten times harder," but added that he was just as diligent with his offseason program, even after Thomas was traded to Minnesota.

Haywood has never been one for bold predictions, but he is hopeful that he can equal or surpass his breakout campaign in 2007-08, when he averaged 10.6 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.7 blocked shots. He missed all but six games last season after tearing a ligament in his right wrist while blocking a shot by JaVale McGee in training camp.

Haywood's absence was amplified as the team's defense regressed from mediocre to terrible and the Wizards matched the franchise's worst regular season record since it moved to Baltimore in 1963. "A lot things have been overhyped, because last year, I wasn't there and we had the same team and we won 19 games," Haywood said, when asked if he felt Wizards fans developed a greater appreciation for him while he was gone. "People try to spin it one way or the other, but I don't look at it like that. I just look at it as, some people are going to appreciate you; some people aren't. Some people are going to love you; some people are going to hate you. You can't appease everybody. Go out there, do what you got to do and let the chips fall where they may."

Haywood had six points, seven rebounds and three blocks against Memphis on Tuesday and appreciates playing preseason games again. "It's great to be back," Haywood said. "Last year, around this time, I was kind of down. I pretty much knew the season was over for myself and I couldn't help the team. You never know what you miss until it's gone. I think I took the preseason for granted. But I'm happy to be there. Sitting down in a suit every game is no fun."

Haywood said the possibility that he could leave Washington next summer hasn't made him cherish his time with his teammates more than before. "I'm not really thinking about that," he said. "Right now, I'm a Washington Wizard and I appreciate the teams that I've had and the team I have now. All that other stuff, you can talk about at the end of the season."

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