- Associated Press - Thursday, July 8, 2010

DALLAS (AP) - Brendan Haywood is coming back to the Dallas Mavericks _ as the starting center.

Haywood agreed Thursday to a $55 million, six-year contract, according to a person familiar with negotiations. The person spoke to The Associated Press on Thursday on the condition of anonymity because details were still being finalized.

Dallas acquired the 7-footer from Washington as part of a blockbuster deal at the trade deadline last season. He was a big part of the Mavs getting on a roll soon after, but down the stretch he lost playing time _ and his starting job _ to Erick Dampier.

The Mavs have been planning to trade or cut Dampier for salary cap reasons. While Dampier could end up re-signing with Dallas, this deal should make Hayward more comfortable about his spot in the team’s hierarchy. He also has to like the Mavericks making him their next move after convincing franchise icon Dirk Nowitzki to stick around. In fact, coach Rick Carlisle visited Hayward in North Carolina right at the start of free agency, while other members of the front office were focused on Nowitzki.

The 30-year-old Hayward drew plenty of interest, but teams were mostly offering around the midlevel exception. Dallas was able to exceed that and give Haywood a raise over his previous contract. The source said the sixth year will not be guaranteed, but based on incentives and there are many incentives in the contract.

The commitment to Haywood might seem strange considering he averaged just 6 points and 6.2 rebounds in a first-round playoff series against San Antonio, while starting only two of those six games.

But the Mavs are counting on Haywood to thrive as the full-time starter, and while playing starter’s minutes. Basically, they’re hoping to get what he gave Washington the first two-thirds of last season: 9.8 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in 32.9 minutes.

Next up for Dallas is maximizing its midlevel exception because the club is over the cap. However, Dampier and other players could still serve as trade bait if there are other deals to be made.

The biggest need in the rotation is a backup center. Dallas has plenty of players for the backcourt and small forward spot. A backup to Nowitzki isn’t a major concern because Shawn Marion can fill in.

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