- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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DALLAS -- Coach Rick Carlisle refuses to make a firm commitment, but all indications are that the Dallas Mavericks' starting center won't be the guy they gave a six-year, $54 million contract this summer.
Tyson Chandler started Wednesday's season-opening win over the Charlotte Bobcats with Brendan Haywood coming off the bench. Carlisle left himself some wiggle room but strongly hinted that he planned to continue using Chandler as the starter.
"They're both top-10 centers in the league," Carlisle said. "I don't think there's any question about that, so you can flip a coin. But I like Tyson's dynamic athleticism with our starting group. I thought it was a better situation having him next to Dirk [Nowitzki] to start games and having Haywood next to [Shawn] Marion off the bench. Those two things kind of balance out. But look, we're not married to this."
The starting job was a subject of emphasis during the Mavs' free-agency recruiting pitch to Haywood this summer. Haywood, whom the Mavs acquired in an All-Star break trade with the Washington Wizards, wasn't happy that veteran Erick Dampier started the majority of the games late in the regular season and playoffs.
Carlisle, who visited Haywood's home the minute free agency opened, promised the 7-footer that he would be the Mavs' starter as the roster was constructed at the time. Haywood signed his contract, which includes several incentives and a nonguaranteed final year, with the belief that he'd be the starting big man.
But that was before the Mavs acquired the 7-foot-1 Chandler for a package headlined by Dampier's instantly expiring contract, which was similar to the deal Haywood signed this summer.
Haywood, 30, who averaged 8.1 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in 28 games for the Mavs last season, has made it clear his preference is to start. However, he doesn't intend to cause problems because he's coming off the bench.
"Sometimes things don't go the way you planned," said Haywood, who had started 467 of the 545 games he played since his rookie season. "You've just got to make the best out of the situation. If I'm not going to start, I've still got to play hard and help this team somehow. My goal might have to be the Sixth Man of the Year.
"What else are you going to do? Nobody wants to hear your complaints."
Chandler, 28, who is being paid $12.6 million in the final season of his contract, has said he doesn't care whether he starts. He just wants to get back to being the force he was two seasons ago for the New Orleans Hornets, when he averaged 11.8 points and 11.7 rebounds. He feels completely healthy again after undergoing surgeries on his toe and ankle and missing 68 games over the past two seasons.
"We went back and forth obviously in preseason," Chandler said of the starting job at center. "I felt like Coach would make his decision on what he felt was best for the team. He went with it and now we've got to roll with it.
"I've got to bring [energy] night in and night out, because this team is going to need it. We have everything else. We have scorers, we have guys that can finish, so the thing that I've got to do is bring the defensive intensity and allow my guys to feed off of that."
Haywood had two points, three rebounds and one block in 20 minutes off the bench against the Bobcats. The Mavs and Bobcats were even with Haywood on the floor.
Chandler had eight points, eight rebounds and two blocks in 23 minutes. The Mavs outscored the Bobcats by 15 points with him on the floor.
"I love him," Carlisle said of Chandler. "I mean, he really has an infectious spirit as a person and a basketball player. He really brings some toughness to our team, particularly our starters, because he brings a dynamic of athleticism that we haven't had here at that position.
"Having said that, I thought Haywood did a really good job off the bench. He's being asked to take on a different role than he's ever had. He's out there playing against small lineups and all kinds of different things, and I thought he gave us a presence when Tyson was not in the game."
8hSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann