The Dallas Mavericks have been among the most consistently successful franchises over the past 15 seasons. Since the turn of the current century only two teams have a higher winning percentage than the Mavericks – the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs.
There are many factors that have led Dallas from being a team trapped in the bowels of the Western Conference to one of the better in recent memory.
One factor has been great ownership by Mark Cuban, who has given the team all the resources it has needed to compete at a high level. Another is having great players including Michael Finley, Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, and of course the greatest ever to wear a Mavericks uniform, Dirk Nowitzki.
However, there is one factor that has to combine both the resources and the talent in a way that will achieve perfect harmony. That position is held by the head coach. The Mavericks, in the past 15 years, have had three really good coaches but only one led them to a championship.
Along Came Carlisle
After a first-round loss in the 2008 playoffs, the Mavericks organization decided to move in a different direction at head coach, hiring Rick Carlisle. Carlisle was well known at that time for his ability to lead a team and being able to use players to their full potential. He had a very good coaching record with both the Detroit Pistons and the Indiana Pacers but couldn’t quite reach the ultimate goal of winning a National Basketball Association championship.
When Carlisle arrived in Dallas, the Mavs had not been able to get over the hangover of a disappointing 2006 Finals. They had just lost in the first round for the second year in a row and patience was growing thin for both Cuban and their fans.
In Carlisle’s first year he helped lead the Mavs to a 50-32 record, good enough for the No. 6 seed in the West. In the first round they met the Spurs. The Mavericks won the series in convincing fashion taking the series 4-1 mainly because of a great defensive game plan to stop Tim Duncan.
Carlisle, in his first year, already had helped lead the team past the first round over a team that was supposed to be in the conference finals again. In the next round however, a young and talented Denver Nuggets team led by Carmelo Anthony dominated offensively winning the series over the Mavericks 4-1.
In Carlisle’s second year, the Mavericks once again made the playoffs. This time however, they were the No. 2 seed. Unfortunately, they had to play a highly-motivated Spurs team that had lost to them the year before. The Mavericks lost the series 4-2 and Mavericks fans were starting to doubt again.
The Run That No One Saw Coming
However, Carlisle’s third year will be remembered by Mavericks fans forever. It was an older team that a lot people saw as good, but on the downhill slope. It finished third in the West with a 57-25 record. The playoffs however, is where Carlisle really shined. His game plans were flawless.
In the first round he played a better defensive player in Tyson Chandler on Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge instead of Nowitzki. This kept Nowitzki fresh and overall the Mavericks won the series 4-2.
In the next round they played the Lakers. Not only did they beat the defending champions, they swept them. A great plan to keep Nowitzki on Pau Gasol left Chandler in the paint and forced the Lakers to take a lot of jump shots. Also, Carlisle subbed in Shawn Marion every time Kobe Bryant came in as a defensive specialist and basically shut down the entire triangle scheme for the Lakers.
In the conference finals they played a young Oklahoma City Thunder team led by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Basically, Carlisle forced the duo to take jump shots and completely took away James Harden, ultimately resulting a 4-1 series win. In the Finals they faced a Miami Heat team that had the Big 3: Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh.
Carlisle forced the Heat to play small with Udonis Haslem guarding Nowitzki and Chandler on Bosh. A great defensive effort by Marion on James really helped force Bosh and Wade to take most of the shots. The Mavericks won the series 4-2 and a title with a great game plan by Carlisle, as well as a dominating performance by Nowitzki.
Since Carlisle’s hiring in 2008 the Mavericks have only missed the playoffs once. His great coaching ability shows when his resume includes an NBA championship and the fact that the Mavericks have never finished below .500.
On Nov. 2, Carlisle passed Don Nelson (399) as the all-time wins leader in Mavericks franchise history. In a post-game interview with Mavs. com, Carlisle thanked three people after the win against the Lakers.
“Well, Nellie is one of the greatest coaches ever. In his honor tonight, I’m going to crack open a beer and drink one to him, ‘cause he’s one of the all-time greats,” he said. “He’s a great friend, and there are many people to thank that put me in this position. But the two main ones I gave big hugs to in the locker room, and that’s Mark Cuban and Dirk Nowitzki.
“You know, a guy doesn’t get in this position unless you have a great owner and one of the all-time great franchise players, so I’m very blessed. All the love and respect to Nellie for what he stood for in this game and how he’s mentored so many of us younger guys along the way, and I’m very fortunate.”
Nowitzki also talked to Mavs.com after the game about Carlisle’s value to the team.
“He’s been pushing all the right buttons for us,” Nowitzki said. “He’s a great motivator for us when he needs to be, and he backs off when he needs to. He just always finds a middle ground, and he’s a great in-game adjuster. He usually has great game plans, and he’s one of the best in the business, so we’re glad he’s ours. And as it looks, he’s going to be here for a long, long time. We’re happy with that.”
On Nov. 5, just three days after passing Nelson as the all-time leader in wins, the Mavericks signed Carlisle to a five-year $35 million extension. The extension will begin during the 2017-18 season and will end after the 2021-22 season. Cuban talked about how it was a no-brainer to re-sign Carlisle.
“We are excited to retain Coach Carlisle in the Mavericks family,” he said. “He is a championship-caliber coach that has made this organization better on and off the court.”
With Carlisle at the helm until 2022 at least, Mavericks fans can be reassured that this team will be in contention for years to come.