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On the end of the dueling centers, I hope

"His approach, his intelligence is top notch"

Without scrolling down on the page, can anyone guess who Eddie Jordan is talking about with this quote?  It must be Caron Butler, right?  Antawn Jamison, of course.  Darius Songaila?  Michael Ruffin?

Bet you'd be surprised if the answer was Brendan Haywood.  I sure was when I first read it.  And while it's just words (for example, when Juan Dixon says that "I've learned so much over the past three years," it doesn't mean I expect his usage rate to actually drop), there's something positively awesome about the way Eddie Jordan is talking about his former whipping boy.

I don't feel like I need to fully lay out the case that Haywood was always a much more effective player than Eddie Jordan ever realized; regular readers know all the components to the argument.  He uses his length so effectively on defense, has always had tremendous defensive plus/minus numbers, always shot a high percentage from the field and always made it easier for other guys to rebound by taking up space in the middle.  Even in 2006/07, Haywood's worst season of his career, the club was 20-11 when he played at least 25 minutes and 21-32 when he didn't.

But then Etan Thomas got hurt, Eddie Jordan had his talk and even Eddie realized Haywood's value.  The funny thing is, even though BF readers clearly feel Haywood was the team's most-improved player last year (I voted for Roger Mason), a lot of Haywood's performance has been seen before.  Haywood really only improved in two areas: free-throw shooting, which is self-explanatory, and committing fewer turnovers (his TO% was his lowest since 2003 and came after a career-worst mark in 06/07).  His defensive on/off numbers were actually fairly average this year after being so stout in year's past.  Otherwise, he was the same space-clogging, awkward-shooting, lengthy-defending, hard-working joker he's always been.

Despite last season, I think lots of people, including me, had this unspoken fear that Etan Thomas' return meant yet another open battle for the center spot.  I was worried I'd hear rhetoric like "last year was last year, Brendan needs to prove he can keep the job," or "Etan gives us more energy in the middle," but clearly Eddie's words today are a ringing endorsement to Haywood's starting candidacy. 

Now, it's true that Eddie should have given him this praise years ago.  Haywood's attitude can be poor sometimes, but Eddie has never treated him well.  Shifting him in and out of the lineup at a whim without displaying proper communication will piss anyone off (just ask Ben Gordon).  I don't condone Haywood's behavior, but I understand it.  As long as Eddie's come around now, though, I'm happy.

The other angle to this story is it puts Etan Thomas in a role more suited to his game.  Lots of the Etan bashing is unfair.  As we've said before, Etan's not a bad player.  He's an excellent defensive rebounder, a very efficient scorer and a guy who sets good screens and finishes well.  He's not a very disciplined defender, but I'm hoping that changes with Randy Ayers in town.  The problem is that he's not worth his contract and that playing him more minutes has always been the byproduct of benching Haywood.  If he's just a backup center, though, there are few better in the league.  Etan also plays a high-energy style that gets him injured all the time, but if he plays fewer minutes, his body won't wear down and he can stay healthy.  It's nice to have a tough guy on the roster, even if that tough guy is very overpaid.

So to all those worried that the center position may be in flux again, these should alleviate your concerns.  Eddie's comments are just words, but they reassured me.