The Dallas Mavericks are in the midst of an incredibly bad losing streak. For only the third time in the Mark Cuban era, the Mavericks begrudgingly own a six-game losing streak. They have lost nine of their last 10 games. The culture of winning and success the Mavericks have created for well over a decade has now met its darkest time. It’s gotten to the point where Dirk Nowitzki called the game against the lowly Washington Wizards on New Year’s Day a “must-win” and “playoff” game. For all intensive purposes, Dallas has come awfully close to hitting rock bottom.
Shawn Marion said things have got to change. “We got to get some dog in us, some fight in us right now,” he said. “At times, we look good and it’s going good and at times it’s not. Right now, the times don’t outweigh the times it’s good. That’s what’s happening. We got to find a way to get it going because this (expletive) stinks.”
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle briefly commented on what is going wrong for the team after their latest loss to the Spurs. “We have a lot of challenges,” Carlisle said. “To go down the laundry list of things we’ve got going against us is something I’m not interested in. This league has never been about telling everybody about your problems. It’s about finding the solutions to the big ones and then cleaning up the little ones as you clean up the big ones.”
In regards to whether the chemistry is an issue or if the effort just isn’t there, Carlisle had a simple and broad answer. “Right now, you’d have to question everything,” Carlisle said. “I’ll just leave it at that. And again, I’m still going to stay on record saying I believe in the group. But we’ve all got to do better. And it starts with me.”
Twitter can be an awfully powerful tool. When used for sporting events, the social media outlet has become an internet barroom for everyone to interact and take part in enjoying a game. When things don’t go well, people tend to react. They also tend to overreact. After the loss to the Spurs, I had more than a handful of people suggest that the Mavericks needed to let Rick Carlisle go. Mike Brown and Avery Johnson have shown us that coaches are usually on a short leash. In pro sports, people will blame the easiest scapegoat in times like this where the sky is falling. Dallas is losing games in blowout fashion. During their six-game losing streak, the Mavericks are losing games by an average of 19.2 points per game.
While people are asking for Carlisle’s head, the coach is still looking for answers. “I’ve got to be inventive and find ways [to turn it around]. I don’t have a better answer than that. In the last week, I’ve had to literally scream in the face of two guys in practices and shootarounds to get the point across and I will do that,” Carlisle said. “And I will continue to do that. If I have to start suspending guys for not doing things they’re supposed to be doing on the court, I’ll do it. And Mark [Cuban] and I will get into it about that. But somehow, things have got to change and it can’t just be about that it’s a tough schedule. It just can’t.”
It’s clearly a situation where Carlisle isn’t happy with how things are going. It was so bad that Carlisle called a timeout he didn’t have late in the game against the Denver Nuggets. The weird occurrence led to the Nuggets getting a technical free throw and the ball. Whether Carlisle was ticked off to the point of needing to get his point across to the team or he was ticked off enough to forget that he didn’t have the time out, it all revolves around him being ticked off. Even during the game against the Spurs, Carlisle called a weird timeout in mid-possession. As the team came toward the bench, he was talking to Darren Collison. It appeared he didn’t like what Collison was or wasn’t doing during the possession.
While threatening to suspend players isn’t very realistic, he can just keep guys stuck at the end of the bench, it does speak to the point that things are getting desperate in Dallas. “That’s a little aggressive,” Dirk Nowitzki said when hearing about Carlisle thinking of suspending players. “I never heard anything like that.
“But it starts with the players. We need to compete at all times and I said it numerous times, we’re not as talented as the top teams are. That’s pretty obvious. So we really have to make up for it by playing harder, by scrambling on defense, rebounding and five guys being in there scrambling, boxing out, getting the ball. If we take the ball out of the net every time down we’re going to have trouble.
“I’m not sure if that helps if you’re start suspending people left and right.”
When asked about Carlisle’s thought of suspending players, Elton Brand said: “If that’s what he said, I’m pro-team, but I don’t want to see any of my teammates suspended. That’s insubordination in my locker room. I’m part of this. I hope he wasn’t talking about me. So we find a way to put in that work and get better. I don’t feel it’s at the level that guys need to get suspended, but we need to find a way to get guys to play hard and play as a team.”
So is Carlisle’s idea of threatening suspensions being the final straw? Is it time to let him go? Rushing to send Rick out the door is way too rash. The game isn’t played on paper, but the roster does look like it has potential to make some noise. Even though they’ve had time try to mesh together, it simply hasn’t worked. It’s not like Carlisle hasn’t tried to find an answer to make it work. The Mavericks have used 14 different starting lineups through 31 games of the season. When Dirk eventually returns to the starting lineup, they will likely have to go through a couple of additional tweaks to find the group that works best.
The thought of suspension could definitely lead to a smell test to see if players have tuned out the coach’s message. If Elton Brand is a barometer, he hasn’t lost the locker room. “I’m not looking at coach [in terms of placing blame],” Brand said. “It’s definitely not his fault. I’m not looking at management. They put together a group of veteran guys that know how to play with some young guys that know how to play. It’s us [the players]. A lot of guys don’t know Maverick basketball. Maverick basketball is being a winner, not being comfortable losing. And guys coming from different situations may be comfortable losing.
“So we have to find out who’s not comfortable losing and find a way to start winning. Once we do that, we’ll feel a lot better around here. But right now, it’s a down year right now.”
It is a down year, but kicking Carlisle to the curb isn’t the answer. You can say this, if the Mavericks put Carlisle out on the street and he still wanted to coach, he would be swooped up by a team in less than a week. He’s that good of a coach. You can say he doesn’t do a good job with grooming young talent, but there aren’t a lot of winning coaches that thrive on relying on young talent. How quickly people forget how Carlisle orchestrated the magical run for the Mavericks in 2011. Sure, the players on the team played to their maximum ability, but Carlisle pushed all of the right buttons along the way.
He’s a coach that will take on challenging situations. He’ll also jump on the grenade to protect his players. Who can forget the amount of support Carlisle gave to players like Brendan Haywood when he was going through his rough patches or Lamar Odom during the whole saga that was his enigmatic play during the 2011-12 season? Whatever hand is dealt to him, Carlisle will make the most of it. Coaches rarely are able to adapt to what is given to them, but Carlisle has been able to do it during his time with the Mavericks.
This year has clearly been the epitome of a challenging situation. The Mavericks have used a total of 19 players during this season. Names like Eddy Curry, Delonte West, Derek Fisher and Troy Murphy have come and gone quickly during the course of the season. The team has had to restructure itself with a new primary scoring option, a new point guard, new bigs and do it all without having Dirk in the mix. Simply put, it’s asking Carlisle to do too much.
That doesn’t mean the blame needs to be immediately thrust upon the front office for not keeping guys on board, no matter the price. The front office is trying to walk the tight rope of rebuilding and doing it without hitting rock bottom. It’s a challenging situation, but the front office has shown the creativity and versatility to do it over the years. To this point, it appears things aren’t working this year. Things can turn though. All it takes is one positive thing to happen and then the course can change.
That doesn’t make Carlisle the fall guy. It just makes it a tough situation where he’s left with very few outs. “Every day, you got to see the big picture and see that there are some positives, even though we’ve been losing games,” he said. “And just stay on the fundamentals and keep preaching about ‘team’ and sticking together.
“There’s nothing easy about a losing streak. I’ve been through my share of them. I don’t like it. I think it’s something we have to take personally as a group to bust out of. That’s kind of it.”
Looking over the last five years, 46 wins would be the goal the Mavericks would have to try to reach to have a chance to make it 13 consecutive years of making the playoffs. With a record of 12-19, the Mavericks will have to go 34-17 from here on out to reach that 46-win total. It’s an uphill battle but anything is possible. The first thing they will have to do is collectively make a stand and just decide enough is enough and that they’re going to bust through the drought. That is their first move. As 2012 comes to a close, the Mavericks hope for a new beginning. Firing Rick Carlisle is not the first move towards that new beginning. That would be the worst thing to do.