If we've learned anything from watching the rise of the Boston Celtics over these last three years, it's that you can never underestimate the power of a nucleus of hungry veteran players. Bring together three ringless vets who all want to win and have the mental toughness to get it done, and good things will happen.
Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen proved it in Boston.
Will it ever be proven in Dallas?
Dirk Nowitzki, 32. Jason Kidd, 37. Caron Butler, 30. All of them are hungry to win a ring for the first time in their careers, and they're looking to do it with the Mavericks before their window closes.
Thanks to a big signing this summer, the Mavs will have a fourth veteran by their sides to help them toward their goal.
Brendan Haywood, nine-year veteran center and longtime Washington Wizard before being traded alongside Butler last season, agreed two weeks ago to a six-year, $55 million contract to stay in Dallas. He will remain a Maverick, and he's been guaranteed the starting job for next season.
Haywood has never been a max free agent. He's never been an All-Star or a monster scorer. He's not the kind of guy that Mark Cuban would risk a $100,000 fine to tamper with. But he's a strong low-post presence on both ends of the floor and he's exactly the right piece the Mavericks needed to remain a championship contender for 2011. Winning a title is priceless, and if Cuban's gambit pays off, $55 million will be a steal.
Haywood has been hungry his whole career for a chance to be part of a title contender. He was drafted in 2001 by the Cavaliers with the No. 20 overall pick, traded to Orlando that summer, and promptly traded again to Washington. He played eight seasons and part of a ninth in a Wizards uniform. He hit his statistical peak in 2007-08, averaging 10.6 points and 7.2 rebounds as the Wizards' starting center, but he was never good enough to lead the Wiz into the playoffs. He took a backseat to Butler, Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison. The Wizards were always decent, but never a threat. The highlight of Haywood's career was making the second round of the 2005 playoffs before being steamrolled by Dwyane Wade and the Heat.
This winter, it was time for a change. Days before the trading deadline, the Wizards pulled the trigger on a deal to ship Haywood out — on Feb. 13 they sent him, Butler and DeShawn Stevenson to the Mavs for Josh Howard, Drew Gooden, James Singleton, and Quinton Ross.
The Mavs immediately rattled off a 13-game winning streak. They skyrocketed to a 55-win season, a Southwest Division title and a No. 2 seed in the Western Conference playoffs behind only the mighty Lakers — but they were still dead meat in the postseason. Dallas was knocked out by the Spurs in round one, four games to two. Once again, Haywood wasn't winning anything anytime soon.
Losing always leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. But when you've endured nine years of it, and you're expecting better after a change of scenery, it's especially painful.
Haywood will be hungrier than ever next season. So, too, will Butler, Nowitzki, Kidd, Shawn Marion, Jason Terry and Tyson Chandler. They all want to win, and if they're going to do it, now's their time.
The odds appear stacked against them, but sometimes the hungriest team wins. It happened in Boston three years ago; Dallas could be next. Having Brendan Haywood around for the next six years will certainly help.