Brendan Haywood reunites with former teammates, reflects
Brendan Haywood was leaving the court at the conclusion of the Dallas Mavericks' morning shootaround when he spotted Caron Butler putting up some extra jumpers. Haywood dropped down into his defensive stance and made some playful swipes at the basketball as Butler yo-yoed the basketball from side to side. Eventually, Butler faded to the right to avoid Haywood's long reach, and Haywood celebrated after the jumper hit side of the backboard.
Haywood didn't have a chance to leave the court before some more familiar faces started marching onto the American Airlines Center court. "You're not talking to me?" Haywood asked, as Flip Saunders walked by.
Saunders turned and smiled, then told Haywood what the Wizards planned to do later in the evening. "We're going to run pick-and-roll all night on you," Saunders joked.
"That's okay," Haywood said. "My show game is ready."
Haywood greeted the team trainers and assistants with jokes and hugs, then his face lit up when he saw his former teammate from the previous seven years in Washington, although he didn't look all that familiar.
He grabbed Gilbert Arenas and said, "What's up, Bill Cosby from 'Uptown Saturday Night'?"
Unable to get his bearded teammate to laugh, Haywood tried again.
"C'mon, man, you can't shave?" Haywood asked, as Arenas simply scratched his beard and cracked a smile. He held back from showing much emotion.
Nick Young and Andray Blatche soon followed Arenas and gave Haywood hugs. But Haywood couldn't take his attention away from Arenas. He told Arenas that he is waiting for "the real Gil" to come back, then said, "You look like you just got out the joint."
Blatche and Young fell out with laughter as Arenas walked away, still scratching his beard. "I know you're going to laugh again, Arenas," Haywood shouted, before turning to Blatche -- who recently got a new extension -- and asking him for a loan.
For a brief while, the main court at American Airlines Center resembled any afternoon in the old Wizards locker room, where players constantly ribbed each other over any-and-everything. Haywood was in a playful mood as he prepared to face for the first time the team where he spent his first 8 ½ seasons. The last link to the Michael Jordan era in Washington when he was dealt at the trade deadline last February, Haywood was actually looking forward to the game.
"Sometimes, you play against your old team and it's like you have a vendetta or something like that. It's not like I had a vendetta or anything. I liked my team, my teammates," Haywood said. "It's just a situation that worked out for both parties. It's good to see guys that I played with for so many years. Other than that, I'm just going to try to get ready for the preseason. Just mix and mingle with my teammates."
The Wizards dealt Haywood last summer partly because they didn't believe they could afford to pay him in free agency. Haywood, Butler and DeShawn Stevenson helped Dallas claim the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, but got upset in the first round against San Antonio. Haywood decided to return to the Mavericks last summer after signing a six-year, $55-million deal with the Mavericks.
"I think the thing that led me back here was the camaraderie that I had with my teammates. The great leadership with guys like Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd. It was just something that I really enjoyed," Haywood said. "At the same time, I still had a bad taste in my mouth from the way we lost to San Antonio. I thought we could've done much better. I like our team. I like my teammates and I wanted to come back and finish things off."
Haywood is hoping to advance beyond the first round for the second time in his career -- and go further. "This team has won 50 games or better the last nine, 10 years. This city is ready to see the Mavs get back to the championship. I got to go with the fans," he said. "I got to get back to that level."
As he looks back on his former team, Haywood understands the direction the franchise has taken since purging the core of a former playoff squad last February. "I think they have a lot of promise," he said. "They have a lot of good young players, with John Wall and players like Blatche and JaVale McGee. They are going with a youth movement to turn things around and get back to winning ways. I think they can do it."
I didn't have a chance to speak with Haywood about Arenas since our interview was interrupted by his reunion with the Wizards. But we did discuss Arenas a bit last April when I visited Dallas to do a story on him and Butler. At the time, Haywood offered some great insight into Arenas with a perspective you would expect from someone who played with, and was good friends with, Arenas during their time in Washington.
"Gil's a good guy," Haywood said last April. "Everybody that knows Gil knows Gil is not a gangster. Gil is not some guy trying to intimidate people with guns. That's not Gilbert Arenas."
I asked Haywood if he was surprised that Arenas was the last man standing after the roster shakeup at the end of last season. "No. It makes perfect sense," Haywood said in our conversation last spring. "If you look at it, he's probably the most untradeable player on the team. If he's playing well and playing up to the level that we all know he can, management is not going to want to trade him. If he's not playing well, who's going to trade for him? You got the knee issue. You got the gun issue and then you got the amount that he's making. He's got a very hard contract to trade. But it doesn't shock me that he's still there. I think it makes sense that he's still there."
And like many others, Haywood is waiting to see Arenas laugh again.
| October 5, 2010; 5:46 PM ET
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