(Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)
Earl K. Sneed's offseason report series continues, taking a look at the futures of centers Brendan Haywood and free-agent-to-be Ian Mahinmi.
Offseason Report: centers of attention
DALLAS — After watching seemingly helplessly as the Oklahoma City Thunder’s trio of three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant, All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook and Sixth Man of the Year James Harden shredded the Dallas Mavericks’ defense en route to a first-round playoff series sweep, there were plenty of questions to be answered by two of the big men that anchored the middle.
Using a three-headed monster at center of Brendan Haywood, Ian Mahinmi and Brandan Wright all season long after the free-agent departure of Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler to New York, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle saw his rotation of big men rendered ineffective at both ends of the floor against the young and athletic Thunder lineup. Now, with Mahinmi set to hit free agency on July 1 and the front office also faced with decisions to make on the contractual statuses of Haywood and Wright, there could be even more changes made to the stable of big men at Carlisle’s disposal.
“I just think it was a weird season with the lockout, not getting a chance to mesh and jell and have the proper time to come together as a team,” Haywood said. “So, I mean, that’s the same excuse a lot of teams can have. It just didn’t work out. … We had some goals that we didn’t meet as a team. It’s hard to qualify the season. Right now, I think everybody is just disappointed.”
“Obviously, you want to sit back, watch film and see what you could do better,” Mahinmi added as headed into the offseason. “And you don’t want to take too much time off because the season will come fast, and you want to get back to the gym, improve and get better and hopefully next year do a better job.”
The 7-foot Haywood started all 54 of his appearances this season while battling several nagging injuries, scoring 5.2 points on 51.8 percent shooting and pulling down 6.0 rebounds a game. But that production slipped to 3.3 points and 3.3 rebounds in the playoffs while he connected on just 28.6 percent from the field.
Just 25 years old, the 6-foot-11 Mahinmi displayed an ability to score and defend above the rim in either a starting or reserve role. Averaging 5.8 points and 4.7 rebounds while connecting on 54.6 percent from the field, Mahinmi started 12 of his 61 appearances during the regular season. But he was also at times the forgotten man behind Haywood, after Wright showcased why he was a lottery pick of Charlotte (traded to Golden State on Draft Night) in 2007.
Still, it was Mahinmi that was the most efficient and effective of the big bodies in the playoffs, upping his scoring average to 7.3 points and pulling down 4.5 boards a game in just 17.5 minutes an outing. Mahinmi also became Carlisle’s second-half starter at center and often finished games in the postseason series while connecting on 64.3 percent from the floor against the Thunder defense.
“I got a lot of stuff done and I think I grew up as a player,” Mahinmi said when summing up his season. “You know, being around great guys and great coaching and great people, I learned a lot this season.”
He added: “Obviously, it’s been two great years (in Dallas) for me. The Mavs organization gave me a chance to really play and show the world what I could do, so I really want to stay here. But on the other part, you know, the NBA is a business, so we all know they’re gonna try to make the team better. … I don’t know if I’m in their plans, but me, I really want to stay here.”
While Mahinmi contemplates his pending free agency, Haywood is also uncertain of his future in a Mavericks uniform amid speculation that he could be a candidate for the NBA’s amnesty clause adopted in last December’s newly ratified Collective Bargaining Agreement, allowing a team to waive a player and not have his salary count against the cap or luxury tax.
In July of 2010, the Mavericks re-signed Haywood to a six-year, $55 million contract.
“I like Dallas,” Haywood concluded. “It’s a great city and it’s a great organization, so I’d definitely like to be back.”