Where do the bucks stop for Brendan Haywood?

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Depending on how you classify players like Amar’e Stoudemire, Brendan Haywood is likely the top center in this free agent class. He’s a skilled defender and a seven-footer who can finish open opportunities; in the NBA, that’s a combination that brings a serious paycheck.

Now that the games have begun, Haywood is being pursued from a number of interesting angles. On the one hand, there are the incumbent Dallas Mavericks, the team that traded for Haywood mid-season. At the time, it was made clear that the Mavs’ real target in the Josh Howard trade was not Howard’s replacement, Caron Butler, but the defensive big man who could help to anchor the Dallas D. Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson even said as much. However, Brendan may not have been feeling the same love by the end of the playoffs, after he and Rick Carlisle butted heads on a few occasions.

Still, Dallas can offer Haywood more money than any other team over the cap by using his Bird rights. While other contenders are throwing Brendan the full mid-level exception, Dallas is expected to offer around $8 million per year. That’s a substantial difference, particularly if the Mavs sign Brendan to a long-term deal.

The competition is pretty intense, though, and a lot of Brendan’s decision likely hinges on how the top tier of free agency shakes out. The Cleveland Cavaliers have expressed their interest in bringing in Haywood to replace Shaquille O’Neal, a move that really only makes sense for Brendan if LeBron James is still on board. A sign-and-trade seems to be the Cavs’ only option; they began free agency technically under the salary cap (which means no mid-level exception), yet their cap holds will prevent them from making any serious plays for Haywood’s services.

Plus, wouldn’t it be a bit weird for Haywood to play alongside a once reviled opponent in LeBron James?

The Miami Heat have also contacted Haywood, which presents a far more interesting opportunity. While it’s still unclear whether LeBron would really want to return to the Cavs, it seems as though someone of note is going to end up with the Heat. Dwyane Wade is resolved to bring a notable free agent to South Beach, and even if it’s not LeBron or Chris Bosh, it could present a great opening for Haywood. The other center options are slim, and Brendan could likely do a lot of good (and make quite a bit of coin for himself) playing alongside, say, Wade and Amar’e Stoudemire. That free agent trio doesn’t quite have the drawing power of a the James-Wade-Bosh supergroup, but it’s the foundation of a contender: an MVP caliber wing, a high-scoring, offensive-minded forward, and a big center with a mind for defense.

Haywood has also caught the eye of the reigning Eastern Conference champs, and given the Celtics’ success over the last few seasons, I’d expect that they could at least keep Haywood on the line. But again, the only realistic option for Boston is to use their full MLE to sign Haywood, and for a player who hasn’t really had a big NBA payday of yet, that may not be enough. A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN threw out the idea of a sign-and-trade for the retiring Rasheed Wallace, who could subsequently be bought out. I just don’t see the angle for Dallas. If Haywood is going to walk anyway, why would the Mavs agree to take on additional salary (even if it is just a smaller chunk of Sheed’s total salary) just to see him go?

Ultimately, total dollar amount is even more important to a player like Haywood than it would be to a James or Wade, who not only have plenty of years ahead of them, but endorsement opportunities galore. Brendan’s already 30, and this could be his last substantial NBA contract. That should motivate him to sign with the highest competitive bidder, even with other intriguing options on the table. Unless the Heat, Cavaliers, Celtics, or others can put together a package to rival the Mavericks’ potential offer financially, the odds are Haywood re-signs in Dallas for a deal worth more than the MLE.

UPDATE 11:57 AM
: According to Steve Kyler of HoopsWorld, the Detroit Pistons are also offering Haywood their full mid-level exception. However, they’re the Pistons. They’re obligated to pay the dynamic duo of Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva almost $80 million through ’13-’14. Need I say more?

Lakers’ Jose Calderon out 2-4 weeks with hamstring strain

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 18:  Jose Calderon #5 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts to a called foul during the second half of a game against the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center on November 18, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) — Los Angeles Lakers guard Jose Calderon will be sidelined for at least two weeks with a strained right hamstring.

The Lakers announced their latest injury problem Monday before hosting Utah in their 11th game in 18 days.

The Lakers also recalled rookie center Ivica Zubac from their D-League affiliate.

Calderon is averaging 4.7 points and 2.6 assists in his first season with the Lakers. The veteran Spanish point guard became a starter last month when D'Angelo Russell was sidelined with a sore left knee.

Calderon, Russell and Nick Young are all out for the Lakers (10-12). They have been among the NBA’s pleasant surprises, but injuries and a brutal schedule are conspiring against them.

Larry Nance Jr. sat out Saturday in Memphis, while Julius Randle missed games last month.

Reports: Boston interested in trade for Andrew Bogut, Mavericks not there. Yet.

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 08:  Andrew Bogut #6 of the Dallas Mavericks reacts to scoring during the second half of a game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on November 8, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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There has been speculation around the league that now that the Dallas Mavericks are struggling, there will be a sell-off. Harrison Barnes is a future lynchpin, Dirk Nowitzki isn’t going anywhere, but there are a lot of players that are more win-now than the place the Mavericks seem to be, so those guys could get moved for future assets.

At the top of the list: Andrew Bogut.

In a shock to nobody, there is a report that Boston would be interested, via A. Sherrod Blakely at CSNNE.com.

As the February trade deadline draws near, the Boston Celtics are expected to take a close look at adding a defensive-minded, rebounding big man with Dallas’ Andrew Bogut likely to emerge as a target.

The former No. 1 overall pick is the final year of a three-year, $36 million contract he signed with the Golden State Warriors in 2014. He is due to make $11.027 million in this, the last season of the contract.

Dallas (4-15) has the worst record in the NBA and are likely to continue building for a post-Dirk Nowitzki with a high lottery pick in June’s NBA draft. Adding another first-round pick from Boston would benefit a squad that has to increase its quality depth going forward. Having another first-round pick can only enhance their roster.

While you can see the logic from the outside, inside the Dallas’ offices they are not in that place, reports Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

Sources tell ESPN that Mavs have no immediate intention to shop C Andrew Bogut, as their focus, for now, is trying to salvage their season. However, Mavs management recognizes that Bogut has significant value in the trade market as a proven championship-caliber complementary piece in a contract year and could become motivated to move him if and when it becomes clear that the Mavs have no hope of making the playoffs this season. Several league sources said the Mavs should be able to get a first-round pick from a contender for Bogut.

Let’s be honest: Dallas isn’t making the playoffs. They can make their worst-in-the-West record look a little better — six of their next eight games are at home, at some point they will get Dirk Nowitzki back — but they are not climbing over six teams and making up the 11 games they are below .500 just to get in the mix for the potential eight seed.

Which means expect them to be looking for deals as the deadline nears, and Andrew Bogut may well get moved. But we’re going to get past Christmas before that talk starts to gain real traction.

PBT Podcast: Breaking down Eastern Conference standings with Dan Feldman

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 11: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers dunks against the Washington Wizards during the first half at Verizon Center on November 11, 2016 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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One-quarter of the way into the NBA season, we know a few things about the Eastern Conference.

As expected, the Cavaliers are the team to beat. Toronto has established itself as a clear second in line, but Boston is third and finally getting healthy. After that there are a lot of questions about who are playoff teams and who is going to slide. Will the Knicks hold on? Will Atlanta bounce back? Will the Bulls regress?

Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break it all down in this latest PBT podcast.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (check there to see all the NBC Sports podcasts), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

Report: Rockets match offer sheet, will keep Donatas Motiejunas

Donatas Motiejunas, Kenneth Faried
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Give the Brooklyn Nets front office credit, they tried. GM Sean Marks is being very creative trying to rebuild a team after his predecessor Billy King — on the orders of ownership — burned all future assets in hopes of having a good team to open the new Barclay’s center.

The Nets went after Houston big man Donatas Motiejunas with a creative four-year, $37 million offer sheet. It didn’t work, the Rockets matched, something first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports and since confirmed by others.

To make room on the roster, the Rockets have waived Bobby Brown.

The match expected. The offer sheet was constructed so that if Motiejunas’ ongoing back issues are severe the Rockets can pay him $5 million for this season and be done — a move that is not likely. If they keep him past Jan. 10 of this season, they owe him another $3.5 million. There is a March deadline to pick up the $9 million for next season. More importantly, the last two years of this contract are not guaranteed, meaning there isn’t a lot of risk for the Rockets and the contract is very tradable. Which could happen next summer (because of how late in the year the deal was signed he cannot be traded this season).

There’s also a chance this signing just works out — on paper, Motiejunas is a good fit in the Mike D’Antoni system. He’s a big man who seasons ago he shot 36.8 percent from three — he can space the floor on James Harden drives, and in transition he could run to the arc or post up smaller defenders inside on a cross match. There’s a lot of potential there, he’s going to get some run.