The Dallas Mavericks path back to success goes through their head coach.
Rick Carlisle is a wizard. Plain and simple.
The veteran head coach is 17th all-time in wins among coaches (third among active coaches). The Mavericks will need him to use some of his magic coaching dust to lead them out of the depths of the NBA standings. He is the most important piece to the rebuild.
Very few teams have an elite level head coach. In fact, only seven NBA coaches have even been with their teams for at least five seasons now: Gregg Popovich (22), Eric Spoelstra (10), Carlisle (10), Terry Stotts (6), Doc Rivers (6), Brad Stevens (5), and Brett Brown (5).
Carlisle has an argument as the best tactician in the game. His knowledge of X’s and O’s and after-timeout plays are rivaled by few in his field.
This breakdown by experienced basketball coach Liam Flynn shows a glimpse of what kind of intricate play designs Carlisle can conjure up.
One thing that makes Carlisle so great is that he adapts his scheme to his personnel. This allowed him to keep the Mavericks competitive during most of his tenure, despite a revolving door of players and no true star ever paired with Dirk.
Look at how he rejuvenated Tyson Chandler’s career by making him primarily a screen and roll big, thus conserving his energy for defense and rebounding. Or look at Monta Ellis, a player who no one really wanted after his stint in Milwaukee and retired just a few seasons after his near All-Star level play in Dallas.
Another thing that makes Carlisle unique among his peers is the work he puts in during the offseason. The Dallas coach is known to fly out to wherever his players are staying during the summer to work on their games with them individually.
Last season, he flew to Dennis Smith Jr.’s home in Fayetteville, North Carolina to spend significant time getting to know his new rookie’s life, family and game. The theory that Carlisle does not like or spend energy on his younger players is simply a myth.
If there is one accurate criticism of Carlisle, it is that he does not tolerate me-first players. Lamar Odom, Rajon Rondo, and recently Nerlens Noel come to mind of guys who were unwilling to buy into the system and give their best effort all of the time.
Many fans see this as a major flaw; a coach who is limiting the talent pool of an organization. The latter may be true but I am still happy Carlisle is as strict as he is on this topic. Culture is an undeniably important part of building a winning team and a cohesive, structured locker room helps to facilitate that culture. Nobody is above the team for Rick Carlisle.
The Mavericks are on the fast track to returning to winning basketball if they can acquire some talent for their likely future Hall of Fame coach. Smith Jr. and Harrison Barnes are a great start but they absolutely must hit on their draft pick, in free agency or both this summer to continue growing as a team.
Otherwise, Carlisle could always head for greener pastures. In a Mavs.com interview with General Manager Donnie Nelson, he had this to say about his coach, “In our opinion it was an extremely difficult year for our head coach. I don’t know what the record is in terms of G-League players (called up to the NBA), but we’re right up there.”
Fortunately, Carlisle himself offered some encouraging, loyal words, “I like this franchise. I should say I love this franchise. Being here 10 years I knew that there was going to be a point where things would take a downturn.”
He mentioned in another interview that when he signed his extension in 2015, he was aware a rebuild was likely on its way. That was okay with him.
That being said the brightest future for Dallas is with their trusted commander running things on the sideline. Mark Cuban, Donnie Nelson and the rest of the front office must act quickly to give Carlisle the tools he needs to eventually construct a competitor. If they do not, this last extension could be Carlisle’s last in Dallas.