In Rick we trust
The Dallas Mavericks have let plenty of guys go the past two offseasons. Some players mattered to their 2011 NBA title, some didn’t. But letting those players go meant they had to be replaced with someone new.
That turnover is stark this season as the Mavericks integrate nine new players into a lineup that includes championship holdover Shawn Marion and does not include future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki, who is out with a knee injury.
Carlisle must integrate all of these new players into a team that can be competitive in the Western Conference.
That makes the re-signing of head coach Rick Carlisle earlier this year even more important than it seemed just six months ago. In truth, Carlisle probably wasn’t going anywhere. But he was going to be a free agent before the Mavericks signed him to a four-year contract in May.
Now close your eyes and imagine this Mavericks team without Carlisle. You get it, don't you? This Mavericks team is ragged. They’re 6-6 entering their November 21 game against the New York Knicks. The Mavs started the season on a tear, going 4-1. They’ve gone 2-5 since.
Putting the pieces together
Carlisle must integrate all of these new pieces into a team that can be competitive in the Western Conference. New players like center Chris Kaman, forward Elton Brand, guard O.J. Mayo and guard Darren Collison must not only learn Carlisle’s playbook, they must also learn his way of doing things. That includes playing great defense, something that has been spotty for Dallas so far.
But you have to trust Carlisle with a group like this, both now and later this season. He has a 10-year track record, and we all saw what he did with the 2011 Mavericks team. He knows how to pull the strings, and his mastery was evident last week against Washington.
Carlisle has a 10-year track record, and we all saw what he did with the 2011 Mavericks team.
The Mavericks struggled for the first 16 minutes. But in the second quarter, Carlisle took advantage of an official timeout with 8:25 left to reinforce his desire to get the ball inside, where the Mavs had a clear advantage.
Up just 31-27 coming out of the break, the Mavs went on a run. The offense flowed through their new stretch forward, Troy Murphy, along with inside threats Kaman and Brand. The trio scored six points during the next three minutes, increasing Dallas’ lead to 43-33. Jae Crowder also helped during that stretch, and the rookie has taken on a substantial role early as a key reserve.
Carlisle had to reinforce his interior tactics in the fourth quarter, as Dallas saw its 18-point lead shaved to three with seven minutes left. Carlisle called a timeout and took the opportunity to remind his team to get the ball inside. He even drew up a play to get the ball to Kaman after the timeout.
Kaman didn’t make that basket, but Brand grabbed the rebound and scored. The Mavs went to Kaman again on the next possession and he made a layup. On Dallas’ next possession Mayo drove to the basket for a layup, giving Dallas a seven-point lead.
What followed illustrates Carlisle’s challenge. For some reason, after Mayo’s layup, the Mavs got away from working the ball inside again. That kept the game close. The Mavs, frustratingly, chose low-percentage shots over interior looks, even though they were working.
A learning curve
Everyone is still learning how to function on this newly created team. Carlisle is still learning which buttons to push and his players are still learning what works best in an offense without its best playmaker. Unfortunately, Carlisle can’t call a timeout every time it goes south. Sometimes he has to let his players figure it out.
The Mavs won that game, but lost the next game to Indiana by 20 points. It’s going to be that kind of start for Dallas. But it’s nearly impossible to not have faith that Carlisle will find a way to make it work.
After all, he made it work a year and a half ago and it led to a NBA title.