While the Dallas Mavericks are expecting Brendan Hawyood back from injury at some point in the next week, there is no longer much of a need for the aging center in the Mavericks line-up.
Ian Mahinmi and Brandan Wright have played well in his absence, and unless the team is playing one of the handful of the league's true low post scorers, Haywood isn't as valuable as either of his back-ups.
The problem with Haywood starts with how he "fits" with the rest of the line-up. An 11-year NBA veteran at the age of 32, he no longer has much lateral mobility. On a veteran Dallas squad which allows so much dribble penetration and struggles to get back in transition, this is a serious problem.
With two aging seven-footers in Dirk and Haywood, the Mavericks start one of the least athletic front-courts in the league. Both Wright and Mahinmi have far more bounce in their step, which significantly improves Dallas' overall athleticism, and both have higher per-36 minute block averages than Haywood.
The one benefit to playing him comes from his ability to use his size at 7'0", 260 pounds to hold his ground on the low block. However, unless Dallas faces the LA Lakers (Andrew Bynum) or Memphis Grizzlies (Marc Gasol) in the playoffs, they can get away with their skinnier centers defensively.
On the other end of the floor, Haywood is a non-factor in other team's game plans. There's only one situation where he is a threat offensively: if he (somehow) manages to catch the ball while standing close enough to the rim to take less than two steps to dunk. He averages 1.5 turnovers a game per-36 minutes while shooting 46% from the free-throw line.
The combination of Mahinmi and Wright, in contrast, gives Dallas much more at the center position.
Wright has been one of the team's most pleasant surprises, an athletic 6'10", 230-pound big man with a 7'4" wingspan and nice touch around the basket. He was a McDonald's All-American who spent one year at UNC before being drafted No. 8 by the Golden State Warriors in 2007, but injuries had nearly derailed his career when the Mavericks picked him up in the off-season.
After slowly pushing his way into the rotation as the season has progressed, he had a breakout game in their 101-99 OT victory over the Houston Rockets on Saturday, with 14 points on 6-7 shooting with 6 rebounds and 7 (!!) blocks. If Dallas can even get close to that level of production from Wright, they owe it to themselves to play him as many minutes as possible.
Mahinmi, meanwhile, doesn't have Wright's upside, but he's still far more effective than Haywood. He has a PER of 14.8 to Haywood's 13.7 while being far more active defensively.
Whenever Haywood comes back from injury, the Dallas coaching staff will have to monitor his minutes carefully. The Mavericks should do so in a way that steadily decreases his playing time before the playoffs begin.
For more news and analysis on the Mavericks and the rest of the NBA, check out Mavs Moneyball as well as Overdosed On Confidence.