Saturday, May 10, 2008

MaveRick Carlisle

With the Dallas Mavericks inserting Rick Carlisle as the franchise's newest head coach, I decided to take a look why exactly Carlisle was fired as head coaching in Detroit and Indiana after experiencing a respectable amount of success. It was Carlisle, after all, who turned around a Detroit team and created today's always-in-contention Pistons. True it was Larry Brown who led them to their 2004 title, but the work Carlisle did to get them to that point cannot be discounted.

Here's what I got...

There is some similarities to the knocks against Carlisle as their were to Avery Johnson in 2006-07, according to this column by ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher.

That, of course, is part of the rap on Carlisle -- that he has sacrificed the team's playoff readiness by playing it too close to the vest in the name of grinding out regular-season victories. And I wholeheartedly agree that playoff success for players and coaches is a more important measuring stick than regular-season accomplishments.

So Carlisle apparently gassed the Pistons going into the playoffs much like Avery Johnson did in 2006-07, when Dallas went on to win 67 games but fizzled in the postseason. Definitely not what you wanna see, because - let's face it - it's all about postseason success.

Carlisle was let go in Detroit after consecutive 50-win seasons, but the Pistons finished the head coach's second season by getting swept in the playoffs by Jason Kidd's New Jersey Nets in the Eastern Conference Finals. The 2003 Eastern Conference's top seed belonged to Detroit, but the Nets were #2 with only one less win than the Pistons. Furthermore, the Nets only lost two games the entire playoffs before entering the Finals against San Antonio. Regardless, the Pistons removed Carlisle simply because Larry Brown became available, according to this Bucher column.

I can tell you I've been told managing partner William Davidson, team president Tom Wilson and basketball operations president Joe Dumars felt Carlisle was too rigid in how he dealt with the front office as well as his playing rotation. Or that the Pistons probably would've hung with Carlisle for the final year of his contract if Larry Brown hadn't become both available and amenable to moving to Detroit. And that the postseason performances of rookies Tayshaun Prince and Mehmet Okur drew criticism that Carlisle should have had them in his rotation the entire season. Carlisle also had a couple of vets in the locker room privately questioning his adjustments and playing-time distribution.

But fire the guy? After only two years as a head coach? After winning Coach of the Year his first season and directing a team with clearly less talent than the Pacers, Raptors, Hornets, Celtics and Nets -- and arguably Magic and 76ers as well -- to the Eastern Conference's best record?

Wait a second. Malcontent between coach and front office? Not playing rookies/young talent to management's desires? Players questioning the coach? Didn't the Mavericks just get rid of this coach?

I still don't know if the Mavericks needed a change. The problem was more with a Mavericks team that continued to be wrapped in duct tape each season since the 2006 Finals appearance in an attempt to hold some semblance of a contender together.

Back to Carlisle. The next season, he resurfaced in Indiana as head coach of the Pacers. Lots of talent: Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, Reggie Miller in the twilight of his career, Jermaine O'Neal. Not surprising this team became the best in the league in 2003-04.

In the Pacers' first year under Carlisle in 2003-04, they went 61-21 for the best record in the NBA, and the club reached the Eastern Conference finals. Indiana started the 2004-05 season in similar fashion, winning six of its first eight games.
Then came Nov. 19, 2004.

Artest went into the stands after a Detroit Pistons fan he thought doused him with a beverage, and some of his teammates joined in the melee. Artest was suspended for 73 games and the playoffs, and teammates Jermaine O'Neal, Jackson and Anthony Johnson were given shorter suspensions.

The remaining Pacers clawed their way to a 44-38 record and the second round of the playoffs, but Pacers fans were upset that Miller's final season ended that way. (read entire article)

The Pacers - after starting so hot under Carlisle - just weren't responding to him, and after such a promising start, people were calling for Carlisle's head. Here's the beginning of a column by Rick Teverbaugh of the Herald Bulletin in Indiana.

Now is the time to evaluate the Indiana Pacers. And, unfortunately, I can come to no conclusion except that Rick Carlisle has to be replaced as head coach.

In pro sports, you can’t replace most of your team, and the majority of the team’s talent just doesn’t fit in with Carlisle’s coaching style.

Carlisle is one of the league’s better coaches and still a young man by coaching standards. He will land on his feet and maybe even coach a championship team in time. My guess would be that Seattle might snap him up if the team fires former Indiana coach Bo Hill at season’s end.

Indiana has a young team with a lot of talent individually, but getting those talents to merge into a successful unit is another matter entirely. The Pacers probably need to be mobile and fluid on offense and hard-nosed on defense. Right now, they are neither.

Okay, I have to ask.  Did the Mavericks just hire Avery 2.0?

To some degree, I hope so. Avery is a Coach of the Year and led a team to the NBA Finals. The Mavericks were good under Don Nelson, but it took a shake up (replacing Nellie with Avery) to get this team over the hump. Now, less than four seasons after Avery took over (with his can-do-no-wrong coaching start a distant memory), the Mavericks are once again trying to shake things up.

Dallas is clinging to the remnants of their Western Conference championship team, and the hope is that a new face preaching what appears will be a similar message is what the Mavericks need. If it's true that Avery simply wasn't getting through to the players, then it's safe to say this is where Carlisle needs to be at his best. Interesting then that when Carlisle was fired by the Pacers just last seasons, he had similar issues.

Carlisle acknowledged his struggles to connect with the players.

"It's a people business, and communication is really important," Carlisle said. "You can never be too good a communicator. It's something I want to continue to work on."
(read entire AP article)

Mavs fans can only hope the 2001 Coach of the Year has learned from his stints in Detroit and Indiana, and that things fall into place in Dallas.

I don't know if it will work. The evidence says the Mavericks are an aging team with no youth (save Brandon Bass), no draft picks, and no chance to improve with the current roster. Dallas fired Avery Johnson because things weren't working despite a rosy start. Dallas has been declining since the 2006 Finals collapse against Miami, as demonstrated by the 2007 playoff fiasco against Golden State.

Carlisle did turn around Detroit, but I'd say it's easier to take a 30-52 team and turn them into a 50-32 team than it will be for the newest MaveRick to take this 51-31 team back to the top of an increasingly competitive Western Conference.

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