Being comfortable in one’s skin can be a difficult task, but veteran center Brendan Haywood from the Cleveland Cavaliers has mastered the art. He’s a throwback type of center. You know, the type that likes to rebound, block shots and stay close to the basket. He’s a contributor not a complainer and never worries about what he isn’t. Instead, he focuses on what he is, and how he can help his team.
Haywood has come a long way from the kid in North Carolina who once played the saxophone. He has soaked up everything he can in his 12-year career thus far. He’s cerebral in every sense of the word. The Cavs backup big man also knows his role for the new-look Cavs, his history and his responsibility on all levels. He shared his thoughts with us on a myriad of topics in this Q&A.
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Dime: How are you adjusting to your role on this Cav’s team: kind of being used as an emergency lane clogger and shot blocker?
Brendan Haywood: It’s been a little different for me because — besides last year, when I was hurt — I have always been used to being in the rotation. But these are the type of sacrifices that have to be made when you play on winning teams. Coach has his rotation, and I have to be ready to play when my number’s called.
Dime: Do you feel this team can live up to all the hype and be a title contender this season?
Haywood: We definitely have a lot talent but I don’t think right now we’re worried about living up to the hype. Right now we’re worried about establishing good winning habits and building towards the future so we can be a team that wins when playoffs and championship-time comes. Right now we have some things that we have to correct and we’re getting better day by day.
Dime: What are some of things that you see need correcting?
Haywood: I think we have a great coaching staff; our coaching staff always stresses ball movement. They stress that guys need to be in the right places for our defensive rotations and our helps. Those are things that we have to get better at. We have to continue to share the ball as a unit and we have to continue to get better defensively. When you look at the best teams in the league — a team like that Spurs who just won it, what do they do? They play very good defense and they move the ball great. We understand that’s where we have to get to if we want to be great as well.
Dime: You have a unique contract situation that has your name being brought up in trade talks. Can you explain your understanding of your contract and how are you are handling the rumors?
Haywood: I understand the situation. My contract can be used to take money off the books. I understand exactly where I’m at, it’s part of the business — it just is what it is. There are trade rumors every day, but they don’t really bother me.
Dime: LeBron [James] has returned home so to speak, you had an opportunity to play where you grew up in Charlotte for a while too. What are your thoughts on players playing in cities or near cities where they grew up?
Haywood: I think it’s great for LeBron to come home. I think it’s a great story and great for the city of Cleveland. I think this is where he really wants to be as well so everybody wins in this situation. But at the end of the day, the NBA is still a business. So some guys will be able to return home, some guys won’t — because they will go where they feel they have the best chance to win. Or they’ll go where they have the best chance to make money, and for some guys that won’t be in their hometowns.
Dime: Do you think it’s easier or harder to play in your hometown?
Haywood: I think it all depends on the person. Some people don’t like the pressure of playing at home and some people don’t mind.
Dime: How does this Cavs locker room compare to others you have been a part of in terms of talent and chemistry?
Haywood: Talent-wise this roster ranks number one. I’ve never been on a more talented team. Chemistry — we’re still trying to pick it up. The best chemistry I’ve played with was my team in Dallas. Everybody understood where the ball was supposed to go because Rick Carlisle preached ball movement. But our chemistry here gets better day by day and I can see us having a special kind of chemistry as the season goes on.
Dime: What’s your role in the locker room in terms of helping to cultivate that chemistry and culture?
Haywood: I try to talk to some of the younger bigs like Tristan [Thompson] and tell him what I see out there from a defensive standpoint and some of the things offensively. I don’t try to be the vet that’s always talking and yapping. I just try to be the vet that pulls guys to the side and lets them know when I think they’re doing something right or even something wrong.