- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Poet picked an inopportune time to express anew his antipathy toward Brendan Haywood, the temperamental 7-footer whose acts of immaturity in the past have been well-documented.

The Poet has received a two-game suspension after taking exception to Haywood’s elbow, errant or otherwise, in practice.

The Poet suggests Haywood’s elbow was delivered accidentally on purpose, and that could be in a relationship as loaded as theirs.

If so, the Poet was obligated to respond in kind, not escalate the situation with a balled-up fist.

The escalation tactic never leads anywhere anyway, except to a mob looking to separate the aggrieved parties, no better exemplified than Jeff Van Gundy riding Alonzo Mourning’s leg and ankle in the 1998 playoffs.

The Poet and Haywood do not like one another — that is certain — because each is a threat to the other in the minutes column of the box score.

This threat is always there, because one is not a sufficiently better basketball player than the other. Each is capable of being effective or ineffective, depending on the opponent, the bounce of the ball and conviction.

Haywood is prone to bouts of inertia, which is his most befuddling dimension. He instinctively passes off his inertia to the number of minutes he is receiving in a game, which is the province of Eddie Jordan.

It is not easy reading minds and body language, as Jordan is sometimes required to do with Haywood.

Jordan at least knows the undersized Poet will compete with a fire in his belly on a consistent basis, even if his is a bullheaded fire that is counterproductive at times.

The Poet’s two-game timeout comes with the Wizards in a serious funk precipitated by the absence of Antawn Jamison.

The Wizards are short on frontcourt bodies, with Michael Ruffin out of commission and Darius Songaila not up to form after being sidelined most of the season.

The Wizards can find solace in the next two games being highly winnable: at home to the Trail Blazers today and on the road against the 76ers on Wednesday night.

The Poet and Haywood are not destined to become tea-party pals.

Yet they must find a way to give peace a chance, a movement that has the support of the Poet.

Ernie Grunfeld is not apt to trade either player. Haywood, like it or not, is a serviceable center by the standards of the NBA today and has a favorable contract.

The Poet, meanwhile, has an unfavorable contract, difficult to move, as Larry Harris made clear last summer, when the Poet’s name was dropped in connection to Jamaal Magloire.

The role of Harris in the Poet’s contract was not lost on anyone. It was Harris who extended an offer sheet to the Poet in the summer of 2004 that the Wizards eventually matched, the only front-office decision of Grunfeld that is questionable.

The Poet is both earnest and sensitive, if not over-analytical.

He already has gone to the trouble of deconstructing the motives of Haywood to the two beat reporters who travel with the team.

Yet no deconstruction is really necessary.

The Poet and Haywood have a history of ill will, with one probably contributing to it as much as the other.

It is a history with predictable outcomes, whether it is a testosterone-fueled elbow or fist.

The Poet sustained the penalty because of his decision to counter an elbow with a fist, hardly an equivalent response.

As the Poet knows only too well, escalation is always a risky proposition.

You take a fist to a person and he may take a bat to you next time.

Long-standing grievances are a funny thing, whether among teammates, people or nation states.

Despite the Poet-Haywood flare-up, the Wizards remain likeable sorts who follow the steady presence of Jamison and the goofiness of Gilbert Arenas.

You cannot stick so many men together in such close environs over the course of an interminable 82-game season and not have the occasional row.

That’s life. That’s testosterone.

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