Commentary

Forget the grind: Carlisle prepared to pick up the pace with Mavericks

Originally Published: May 15, 2008
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

Rick Carlisle and Mark CubanGlenn James/NBAE via Getty ImagesNew Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle joins owner Mark Cuban in looking ahead for Dallas.

DALLAS -- For what was presumed to be the most anticlimactic press conference on the NBA's coaching carousel, Rick Carlisle's overdue introduction to the locals turned out to be a fairly newsy ride.

Among Wednesday's more memorable revelations:

• Mavericks owner Mark Cuban announced that the club is bringing back performance coach/sports psychologist Don Kalkstein, whose presence was not embraced by Avery Johnson and whose return will inevitably be seen in some circles as a sign of weakness for a franchise in flux … until you find out that the Mavs will be sharing Kalkstein with a fairly successful baseball team out of Boston called the Red Sox.

• As part of nearly 40 minutes on the dais to detail his plans as Johnson's successor, Carlisle shared how he's already lobbied his former top gunner in Indiana to come out of retirement next season to sign in Dallas at 43. Yet it sounds as though Carlisle won't get any farther than Boston did last summer, given that TNT's Reggie Miller texted him back with this message: "Man, you're crazy."

• Then Cuban stopped in the American Airlines Center hallway after the formal question-and-answer session to reiterate to ESPN.com that back-to-back exits in the first round and his well-chronicled interest in buying baseball's Chicago Cubs haven't dimmed his enthusiasm to own and operate the Mavs.

"Not at all," Cuban said.

His grand plan/fantasy is having both teams.

"I even told the Tribune Company [which is selling the Cubs] that basketball is still my first love," Cuban continued. "But the Cubs are a special opportunity and I would be just as excited to own them. The seasons barely overlap, so it's not going to be a problem.

"I'm not going to sell the Mavs just to get the Cubs. I've already said the reasons why I would sell the Mavs -- if someone offers me billions and I'd be an idiot not to [sell] … or something happens with the league, which I've come close to multiple times."

I'm not going to sell the Mavs just to get the Cubs. I've already said the reasons why I would sell the Mavs -- if someone offers me billions and I'd be an idiot not to [sell] . . . or something happens with the league, which I've come close to multiple times.

-- Mark Cuban

Cuban resisted the urge from there to dredge up old wrangles with NBA commissioner David Stern and declined to expound on his chances of winning the bidding and actually landing the Cubs.

He also passed (for the most part) on responding to some of Johnson's recent swipes out the door. Most of the afternoon's chatter was focused on various Mavs types -- Cuban, Dirk Nowitzki and naturally Carlisle himself -- trying to shoot down suggestions that the new coach is not a lot different from the old coach, strategically or personality-wise.

"In terms of style of play," Carlisle said, "I know there's going to be questions."

They won't be restricted to style of play. From the time Carlisle emerged as the only real contender for this job and the ensuing week it took for his four-year contract worth nearly $18 million to be finalized, Carlisle has heard more than a few whispers that (a) he calls way too many plays and prefers too slow a pace to be the guy who liberates Jason Kidd and (b) he hasn't been a good communicator in his stints coaching Detroit and Indiana.

The Mavs likewise haven't been able to shake the perception that Carlisle was merely the best available compromise when president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson passed on the invitation to take over.

So Carlisle tried to explain that he was attracted to this job in part because it's the first team he'll coach that doesn't have grind-it-out personnel, giving him a chance to show how much he knows about ball and player movement, spacing and opening up the floor. He also doesn't appear to be ruffled by the skepticism, noting that Mike D'Antoni was subjected to similarly pessimistic questioning at his introductory news conference Tuesday in New York.

"This is not about me coming in here with my style," Carlisle said. "This is about fitting the style to the personnel."

Having passed on that first crack at the job by convincing his boss that they needed to go outside the organization for a new voice for the first time in Cuban's eight-year run of ownership, Nelson insisted that Carlisle is "the perfect guy for this situation."

Cuban, predictably, said it loudest, insisting that only "scenarios out of left field" -- such as Larry Brown's sudden availability in Detroit and the Pacers' brawl with the Pistons in 2004 which dealt that franchise a blow from which it still hasn't recovered -- derailed Carlisle in his first two coaching jobs.

"It wasn't hard because he's a good coach," Cuban said of the first significant hire of his tenure who he didn't previously know well.

"When we did our research, it wasn't like there was some red flag that just kept popping up [to explain why] the guy didn't work out here or didn't work out there.

"If he had Rasheed [Wallace in Detroit], Rick might have won a championship, too."

Carlisle likens these Mavs to the Indiana team Larry Bird inherited from Larry Brown for the 1997-98 season. Those Pacers, Carlisle recalled, were a "39-win team that a lot of people had written off and thought had run its course and needed to be blown up." Those Pacers, with Carlisle essentially serving as Bird's offensive coordinator, posted 58- and 56-win seasons and were ushered to the 2000 NBA Finals by an all-timer at the point who had a lot of freedom.

A decade later, Carlisle is insisting that Kidd -- more accomplished than any other floor leader he's had as a head coach -- will have as much license as Mark Jackson had with those Indy teams. The unknown remains whether Carlisle can inspire Dallas, post-Avery, like Bird did in Indy with a group clearly afflicted with Larry Brown Fatigue.

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki
Glenn James/NBAE via Getty ImagesOn Wednesday Dirk Nowitzki sat with the media to hear what his new coach had to say.

The one conclusion you could draw Wednesday is that Carlisle, at the very least, is pretty realistic. He knows that the supporting cast around Nowitzki and Kidd has some sizable holes in a Western Conference that punishes those weaknesses more than ever. He also knows that he just signed up to work for a demanding sort who only expects him to go "82-0 and win a championship."

But credit Carlisle, after spending the season as an ESPN analyst, for not trying to lower the bar on Day 1.

"This is one of the crucial periods of Mark's ownership," Carlisle said.

He went on to describe October as the "most important training camp of the Cuban era."

It sounds as though June, July and August will be busy, too, with rumblings already in circulation about the Mavs hoping they can work their way into the sign-and-trade mix for either Miami's Shawn Marion or Atlanta's Josh Smith. They are likewise bound to be linked in trade speculation to Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal, given O'Neal's successes playing for Carlisle and amid a growing anticipation in Dallas that swingman Josh Howard (after last month's marijuana monologues) and former Carlisle go-to guy Jerry Stackhouse (who only has one year and $2 million guarantee for 2009-10 left on his contract) will be offered in various trade scenarios.

Coach and owner spoke at length about Howard -- and favorably so -- in an attempt to dispel the idea that the Mavs' youngest core player will be moved. But Carlisle did acknowledge: "This roster is going to change between now [and camp]. I'm certain of that."

The other declaration of note came from Nowitzki, who immediately challenged the labeling of Carlisle as an uncommunicative after sitting among us media locusts throughout Carlisle's presentation, with Kidd hovering further back.

In the same hallway as Cuban, Nowitzki told the story of his first meeting with Carlisle. Summoned to Cuban's house for what he expected to be an hour, Nowitzki arrived on an empty stomach and left starving.

"Next thing you know we were there for a good four, four-and-a-half hours," Nowitzki said.

"He's been really communicative to me [already]. … I think that's what Avery was missing a little, communicating with the players individually. I think that's the way to go.

"It's still a players' league. It's not a league of coaches."

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics