Weekend thoughts: The so-called "dueling centers"

Besides the lack of defense, perhaps the biggest perceived weakness of this team is the center position.  Last year, Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas were more consistent in their dueling with each other than their play on the court.  Each had some good moments (Etan early and late in the season, Brendan everywhere in-between), but when push came to shove, neither was able to provide the Wizards with a consistent presence in the middle, whatever that means.  

Making matters worse, of course, was their feud.  While Brendan sulked, complained, and griped about his role, Etan was playing hard, albeit poorly.  They physically fought twice, and after Brendan basically decided not to show up for the end of the season, he cleaned out his locker and requested to be traded.  It seemed like a foregone conclusion at the time that one of the two (likely Haywood) would be gone, and even though I've always been a Haywood supporter, even I acknowledged that it might have been time to move on.  

Now, here we are, nearly five months later, and both Haywood and Thomas are here.  Ernie tried desperately to coerce some team into taking on Etan's contract, but he was surprisingly inactive in trying to trade Haywood.  Ultimately, I'm glad Ennie was smart in not dumping Haywood just for the sake of getting rid of him, but can this tandem possibly work again?

Obviously, the first thing that needs to happen is for Eddie Jordan and Haywood to reconcile.  Such a possibility seemed so far fetched in May, but that's why this line in Agent Bog's Gilbert Arenas' live-blogging spectacular surprised me.

Instead, Gilbert decided to do a 45-minute press conference, about his knee, the Wizards, the fact that the rest of the East was scared of them, the fact that Brendan and Etan are now friends, the fact that Eddie Jordan went down to NC to make nice with Brendan, the fact that he has a knee scar from playing frisbee as a kid that's bigger than his knee surgery scar, the fact that he believes his knee to be 100 percent and that he won't wear a brace because he doesn't want anyone to remember which knee was hurt, and the fact that he plans to use the knee to ask out of some unpleasant preseason drills.

More information, please!  We always hear about how Etan and Brendan are "friends," only to see them fight again, but did Eddie really do that?  If so, that's good news, although we have to remember that it's the preseason (check that, not even the preseason).  

Still, a happy Haywood may be the key to the season.  Any hope of him becoming an all-purpose center probably ended two years ago, but even though he'll never become anything more than adequate, he's a far better fit than Etan Thomas.  Mountains of statistical analysis prove this, and it's almost pointless to link them all.  Suffice to say, scroll through the archives, and you'll see them.

The thing is, we really only need our center to provide a consistent defensive presence.  Lots of people point to the Wizards as a team that lacks the proverbial "low-post presence," but plenty of teams have made it far without a traditional back-to-the-basket big man.  The MJ-led Chicago teams never had that, and neither did either edition (1989-1990, 2004) version of the Detroit Bad Boys.  Both of those teams got post-scoring in non-traditional ways (Michael Jordan, John Salley/James Edwards, Rasheed Wallace), and the Wizards can do that with Antawn Jamison, who proved in the playoffs he can still score if you simply dump it into the post to him.  It's defensively where we need Haywood, because he's our top defensive presence.

So how do you get more out of Haywood?  One way would be to simplify his role on defense.  As Kevin Broom is apt to say, it's not that the Wizards don't have any defensive scheme, it's that they have too many.  Perhaps a simpler defensive scheme will make Brendan's role as an enforcer in the paint clearer.  

Another way would be to be more consistent in his playing time.  It's no secret that Haywood's playing time is more performance-based than anyone else on the team.  When Haywood played at least 25 minutes in a game, the Wizards were 20-11 last season; when he didn't, they were 21-34.  More consistent playing time would make for a more consistent role, which would make it easier for Haywood to accomplish what Eddie Jordan wanted.  

That's not to say Etan Thomas doesn't have some value.  For an undersized center, Etan's a pretty good offensive player and rebounder, and that can be valuable in short spurts.  Additionally, despite being very physical, Etan's also kind of frail, and he gets hurt easily.  It seems obvious that if you limit his minutes to 15-20 a game and play him nearly exclusively with the second unit, it'll accentuate his strengths and hide his deficiencies.  I mean, if we're looking for post scoring off the bench, that can be Etan.  He's developed a nice chemistry with Antonio Daniels, the de facto quarterback of the second unit, and his "energy" and "toughness" is best suited for short spurts.

It seems like a win-win to me, on paper.  Play Brendan more, and play him more consistently.  Play Etan most of the other minutes, and allow him to really use his energy effectively.  Etan won't go public with complaints about not playing, either, so it seems like a good way to handle their egos.  The question is whether that'll actually work in practice, especially when Brendan submits one of his classic stinkers that occur every so often.  Will Eddie Jordan have the patience to wait it out, or will he try to use a benching to get his point across yet again, when last year proved that doesn't work?  

I'm convinced that, if used correctly, you can win with Brendan and Etan as your two centers, and that the Wizards don't need to waste resources to upgrade the position.  The issue is using them correctly.  If the coaching staff can't do that, it'll be the difference between a conference contender and one fighting for the last playoff spots.  

Any lingering thoughts?  How big of an issue is this, and can Etan and Brendan coexist?  Was it a mistake to not upgrade the position in the offseason?  

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