In his unbiased opinion, Brendan Haywood said he is very excited about the young and talented squad the Dallas Mavericks have pieced together, and about the team’s bright future.
A backup center with the Mavs when they captured the 2011 NBA title, Haywood said there are only about three or four players he would take ahead of Mavs point guard Luka Doncic if he was starting an NBA team today. Now a studio analyst for NBA TV, Haywood played 14 seasons in the NBA and shared his wisdom about the Mavs-Los Angeles Clippers first-round playoff series with Mavs.com.
Here are just a few of the topics that were discussed ahead of Game 3, which is Friday at 8 p.m. inside the bubble in Orlando.
MAVS.COM: WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE MAVS-CLIPPERS’ BEST-OF-SEVEN SERIES THAT’S TIED UP AT 1-1?
BRENDAN HAYWOOD: After two games I think the Mavericks are in a great position. They’re one of the better offensive teams in the league, so I think coach (Rick) Carlisle has done an excellent job of getting these guys ready to play, starting by letting Luka be Luka. He’s given this kid the freedom to play, and I think the whole teams plays off of it. I think Dallas is in a great place for this playoff run, and in a great place for the franchise. Shoutout to the front office. For those guys to basically trade for Luka and (Kristaps) Porzingis, they have two building blocks that’s going to take them for the next eight-to-10 years.
MAVS.COM: WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON LUKA DONCIC? IS THIS GUY JUST UNSTOPPABLE?
HAYWOOD: Luka to me is very unique, because when he was coming out (of Slovenia) I thought highly of him, but he didn’t look athletic. I thought he might not be all that. But then when I really sat down and watched him play, I saw how special he is. Yeah, he’s not athletic, but he has every shot in his arsenal. He’s got step-backs, runners, floaters, post-ups, the quick jump hooks, the turnaround jumpers. He can shoot the three, but I think that’s one area where he can be better. But that’s going to come with time. But he’s made one of the biggest jumps that I’ve seen from a second-year player. Luka is truly special. There’s not many players in the game that I would start a franchise with over Luka. You’ve got a couple of guys here and there. But after maybe the first three or four, I think Luka is a Top 5 player right now.
MAVS.COM: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LUKA DONCIC AND JAMES HARDEN?
HAYWOOD: James Harden shoots the ball better, but I think Luka plays more of his game. We all know James used to post up, but he stopped doing that. But I think Luka uses the whole court. The difference to me is Luka scores all over the court, whereas James focuses more on the three.
MAVS.COM: GOING INTO THIS SERIES WE HEARD HOW KAWHI LEONARD, PAUL GEORGE AND PATRICK BEVERLEY WERE GOING TO SHUT LUKA DOWN. BUT LUKA HAD 42 POINTS IN GAME 1 AND 28 POINTS IN 28 MINUTES IN GAME 2. HOW IS LUKA CHOPPING UP THE CLIPPERS’ TERRIFIC PERIMETER DEFENSE?
HAYWOOD: In the regular season the Clippers did a pretty good job on Luka. They didn’t shut him down, but they made it a little bit tougher for him. But the playoffs came and I think Luka has gotten better, he’s developed, he’s grown more, he’s more confident. And he’s taken those matchups head on and he’s not scared of those guys. Who would have thought Kawhi Leonard trying to slow Luka down without being able to do anything with him? The Mavs’ front office have done an excellent job of providing Luka with a lot of shooters around him, so now you can’t really double him. If you double him he’s kicking it out to Porzingis, or he’s kicking it out to Seth Curry, or he’s kicking it out to Tim Hardaway Jr.
MAVS: THE CLIPPERS WERE THE TEAM NOBODY IN THE WESTERN CONFERENCE WANTED TO PLAY IN THE FIRST ROUND. ARE THERE ANY SIMILARITIES HERE, BECAUSE IN 2011 NOBODY WANTED TO PLAY THE PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS IN THE FIRST ROUND. AND THE MAVS WOUND UP PLAYING AND BEATING THE BLAZERS IN SIX GAMES. I THINK PORTLAND WAS THE BEST THING THAT HAPPENED TO THE MAVS THAT SEASON. YOU AGREE WITH THAT?
HAYWOOD: I definitely agree. Portland toughen us up and gave us another sense of confidence, because a lot of people were picking Portland to beat Dallas in 2011. We lost one tough game when Brandon Roy went crazy, but that team had a lot of talent and we were able to beat them. I think for us, beating Portland set us up for the way we were able to play later on against the Lakers, OKC and Miami.
MAVS.COM: AFTER BEATING PORTLAND IN THE FIRST ROUND IN 2011, THE MAVS SWEPT THE TWO-TIME DEFENDING NBA CHAMPION LOS ANGELES LAKERS IN THE SECOND ROUND. HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?
HAYWOOD: We were a confident bunch. We didn’t have the Big 3 like you see now. But Jason Terry was as confident as they come. Dirk (Nowitzki) never really talked a lot, but he was super confident in his abilities. DeShawn Stevenson had his swag, and Jason Kidd. All these guys were confident in their abilities and we got hot at the right time.
MAVS.COM: WHAT CAN YOU SAY ABOUT THE FORTUNES OF THE MAVS’ FRANCHISE? THEY HAD DIRK FOR 20 YEARS, AND IF EVERYTHING WORKS OUT THEY’LL PROBABLY HAVE LUKA FOR 20 YEARS.
HAYWOOD: You have to say that Donnie (Nelson, the Mavs’ general manager) has done an excellent job. It’s not like these players just fell in their lap. He had to trade up to get Luka. He had to put a package together to get Porzingis. I’m still trying to figure how Donnie pulled that one off. Who does he have pictures of in the Knicks’ organization that he was able to get Porzingis for Dennis Smith Jr., who the Mavs did not want any more, and DeAndre Jordan (and Wesley Matthews, and a pair of first-round picks). Donnie has done an excellent job for the fact that he’s continued to be aggressive. You’ve got two cornerstones for the Mavericks (in Doncic and Porzingis), and the Mavericks are going to be great for a long, long time because of the great work that has been done by the front office.
MAVS.COM: DO YOU SEE FREE AGENTS LOOKING AROUND AND SAYING THEY WANT TO COME TO DALLAS AND PLAY WITH DONCIC AND PORZINGIS?
HAYWOOD: I’m not sure if they’re there quite yet, but you never know. These guys are down in the bubble (in Orlando) and they see each other all the time, so I wouldn’t be surprised if some conversations went down. It’s not out of the realm of possibilities that one of these stars that have to leave their team will say, ‘Hey, I want to go play with Dallas. They have one of the best owners. I’m talking about Mark Cuban and how well he treats his players. They have a very good front office who are going to put good players around you. They have one of the best coaches in the league in Rick Carlisle, and they have two of best young players in the league.’ I don’t see why another star wouldn’t want to come down there. I know if I was a star and I was trying to get out of my situation, Dallas would be somewhere where I would love to play.
MAVS.COM: WHO DO YOU SEE WINNING GAME 3 BETWEEN THE MAVS AND CLIPPERS, AND WHO DO YOU SEE WINNING THE SERIES?
HAYWOOD: Man, that’s a tough one. If I’m picking with my heart, yeah I’m rooting for Dallas. I’m rooting for Dallas, but I’m scared that the Clippers’ playoff experience will kick in and eventually Paul George and Kawhi and the Clippers will be too much. So I’m picking the Clippers, but I’m rooting for Dallas.
MAVS.COM: DO YOU THINK THE CLIPPERS TOOK THE MAVS LIGHTLY COMING INTO THIS SERIES?
HAYWOOD: Both of those LA teams are tripping right now. If they think anybody is going to walk out there and be afraid of them because of the name they have on the front of their jersey, they’re tripping. The Clippers are going to have to go out there and play, because Dallas has proven that Dallas really should be up 2-0, because that technical foul (and ejection) against Porzingis (in Game 1) was bogus.
MAVS.COM: WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER MOST ABOUT THAT NIGHT IN MIAMI IN 2011 WHEN YOU AND THE MAVS WON THE NBA TITLE?
HAYWOOD: Winning the title in 2011 was truly special. Everybody on that team got along. You had some guys who liked to play cards, guys who liked to play video games. But we all could be on the team plane or go to a team dinner and hang out and have fun. The young guys listened to the vets, the vets listened to the young guys. Everybody contributed. The 2011 team was truly special because nobody expected us to win. Everybody had to sacrifice for us to be able to win. We talk a lot about what being a professional is. I played in DC (for the Washington Wizards from 2001-‘10) and we had a lot of bad habits. But playing in Dallas for those two-and-a-half years (from 2010-’12), I really learned a lot about what it means to be a professional. Honestly, as much fun as I had in D.C., I think I would have been a truly better professional had I been drafted to the Dallas Mavericks’ organization to see what it is to be truly professional every day. That type of organization, they’re not good by accident. They have a good front office, good coaches and good players.