Okay, this may not make me the most popular guy on this site, but I have to get something out of my system, and it's going to require more writing than can be contained in a reasonable-length comment. Let me say up front that I like Haywood for this team (after years of wishing we had someone better, he finally won me over in 2007/8). However, I think the pro-Haywood faction on this site has gotten carried away. Here I'll try to bring perceptions a bit closer to reality (i.e. my perceptions) by addressing a few of the arguments I've been reading on the site about Haywood's supremacy, and offer what I think is a good plan for dealing with Haywood's pending free agency.
First, I want to try to dispel the notion that Brendan was the sole reason the Wiz fell from 43 wins to 19 wins last season. Coaches matter, morale matters, having no point guard worth a crap matters, and tanking really matters. And please don't give me the 1-10 speech again -- the team started slowly every year under EJ -- they were 0-5 the year before, 4-9 the year before that, and 12-18 the year before that (all .500 or better seasons, and I think Haywood played in most of those games).
It's impossible to tell how important Haywood is in the final difference. I mean, why hasn't everyone jumped to the same conclusion about Stevenson's back injury? (No, I wouldn't buy that either.) Haywood's loss was definitely a factor, but more because the team didn't have a viable backup center than because he's an all-star. I love the step forward Haywood took before his injury, but I think there's a general consensus on this site that the team's collapse last year was undeniable proof that Haywood is an undiscovered quasi all star. He's not. He's finally become a solid starter, which this team badly needed. I'm glad Haywood has become a solid center and think he is valuable to the current team. I just think people have gotten a little carried away.
Carried away how, you ask? Well, I seem to remember hearing claims of Haywood as high as the 5th best center in the league. Here's my personal list of best centers in the league with Haywood intentionally left off:
- Duncan (you know we only let him call himself a 4 because he's such a class act)
I probably missed somebody, and I doubt everyone agrees on my exact order, but for the sake of argument, where would you put Haywood on that list (i.e. who wouldn't you trade straight-up for the same salary for one healthy season)? I'd put him in the 12-17 range, and I can't say for certain that he's better than any of these guys. That to me says he's a middle-of-the-road starter in the league. That's a huge improvement from what he was earlier in his career, but not 8-figure-worthy.
Which leads me to the last point I want to make -- what to do about re-signing Haywood. Haywood is worth decent money, even good money for this team on a shorter term deal. But he'll be 31 when he starts playing on his next contract, so unless he's a serious anomaly, he's going to be getting worse over the term of his next contract. If the Wizards give Haywood more than $8 million per year for more than 4 years, they'll live to regret it. I'd say the team should hold onto that as an upper limit with a few caveats: (1) If McGee develops into a starting caliber player this year, reduce that limit by at least $2M or work a sign-and-trade; (2) If Haywood wants a longer contract, lower the per-year cost; (3) If Haywood wants more money, shorten the contract (or make the last year a team option), but don't under any circumstances pay $10M or more per year. That much money can do more for the team in other ways.