- The Washington Times - Friday, October 6, 2006

RICHMOND — While the pinched nerve in Darius Songaila’s back is easily the most delicate development at training camp, the fragile relationship between coach Eddie Jordan and center Brendan Haywood is easily the most intriguing story line in the foreseeable future.

Both are saying all the right things, talking about how steps were taken in mending the relationship that became so frayed last season. But the bottom line is that Haywood, coming off a season when his numbers dropped for the first time in his career, is no longer a lock to be the team’s starting center when the regular season begins.

Haywood, who has started 138 games over the last two seasons, is locked in a battle with Etan Thomas — who has 19 starts over the same span — for the starting job. And with the addition of Songaila — whom Jordan already has said will play some center when the Wizards go with a small lineup — there will be a constant battle for playing time.

Jordan benched Haywood twice last season, and the pill went down hard. Haywood criticized Jordan and said on more than one occasion that the relationship was almost nonexistent.

The two met over the summer to talk about their relationship. And to this point, Jordan is pleased with what he has seen out of Haywood.

“We are solid. We are good,” Jordan said of the relationship. “I see him willing to do some things we’ve asked him to do.

“His personality and his demeanor haven’t changed, but he’s really doing everything that we’ve asked him to do. So far he’s been a model citizen. He’s helping his teammates. It’s a good relationship.”

Haywood felt that he was wronged by the media last season, particularly by The Washington Times, which wrote a headline that said Haywood threw a “fit” when he found out that Jordan was benching him for a game in January.

Haywood refuses to talk about the meeting he and Jordan had, but the 7-footer, who appears to be in great shape this fall, says he has put the past behind him.

“I look at it like this,” Haywood said. “It’s time for both of us to let bygones be bygones. That’s my intention. And from what he’s said it’s his intention too. So hopefully we can move forward. I think both of us at some point let things in the past cloud our better judgment.”

If hearing it from Jordan wasn’t enough, teammate Gilbert Arenas also talked often with Haywood about doing the things he needed to do to stay on the court and help the team improve.

“The whole summer I told him, ‘Keep yourself out of the doghouse so you can be productive and help the team out,’” Arenas said.

Arenas likes what he has seen out of Haywood this summer.

“Brendan has been tough. He’s been throwing ‘bows,” Arenas said. “I’ve never seen this side of him before. He’s fired up and that’s a good thing for us and for him. I also think that by us adding Songaila that’s going to help him. He’s not going to want to lose minutes to another big.”

Jordan moved Thomas into the starting lineup toward the end of the regular season, but recurring injury problems again resulted in Haywood’s insertion into the starting lineup. In the past, Thomas has made it clear that he preferred coming off the bench. However, in his exit meeting with Jordan last year the coach told him that he wanted him to compete for the starting job.

“He ended up the starting center at the end of the season,” Jordan said. “We’ve had talks over the summer and he’s indicated that he wants to fight for the starting job, so there’s an opportunity there for him.”

Haywood said he is looking to play “25-30 minutes a game and just keep on rolling.”

And he also still sees himself as the starter.

“Did we sign a new free agent or something? I mean, I look at it like this. If I come out and I’m in shape, I work hard and I can give the coaches what they want, I’m not competing with anybody but myself,” Haywood said. “If we added a big-time free agent there’d be a competition, but I don’t believe we did that. I started the last couple of years. I plan on starting this year.”

Notes — Arenas has pledged $100 to District schools for every point he scores in the 41 homes games the Wizards play. He will select one school for each of the 41 Wizards home games this season.

“I want to help the children of the metropolitan area in any way possible,” Arenas said in a statement. “This is a good way to do it and it is a fun way. This program will help supply schools with computers, athletic uniforms and equipment and help fund after-school programs. The kids will enjoy it and the community will enjoy it. I am looking forward to scoring points for the Wizards and the kids of the metropolitan area this season.”

Last season, Arenas was the fourth leading scorer in the NBA with an average of 29.3 points. In games played at Verizon Center last year, Arenas averaged 30.4 points with a total of 1,216 points scored, which would have amounted in $121,600 scored for schools.

Individual game tickets are available for all 41 regular-season home games.

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