Though the team’s record was 41-41, many would say that this year was one of Rick Carlisle’s best coaching performances of his career. He had to endure over a quarter of the season without his best player and found a way to make sure his team never quit. Carlisle had to balance the juggling act of a roster that was in flux and it was a roster that easily could have turned on him with new contracts on the horizon. That said, they didn’t turn because the coach never gave in.
It was a year of work for Rick Carlisle. The results didn’t bear any fruit, but it’s not due to his negligence. The summer begins early for him, with potentially a new set of issues he’ll have to prepare for. Dirk Nowitzki might be the best on-the-floor asset the Mavs have, but Rick Carlisle is truly an asset that should not be taken for granted.
Here is the exit interview with Mavs coach Rick Carlisle.
The disappointment might be still fresh, but how would you assess how the season went? “We ended with a win which was good. There were some positives, but we’ve got to get the team better. That’s obvious. There’s going to be a lot of work this summer. We’re excited about the possibilities, but we’re not naive to the challenges. There’s a lot of work to be done, and we’ll do it.”
What needs to be done to improve the team? “We’ve got to get better at every position, if we can. Personally, I’d like to have as many as these guys back as we can that fit because the fewer new guys that we have next, the better it’s going to be from the beginning of training camp going forward to get the team functioning the way we want it to function. Those things will be evaluated. We had a lot of guys that did good things, particularly in the latter stages of the season. In the summer, those things will work themselves out and we’ll go from there. We’re going to have some newer guys on the team. We know that. We’re just not exactly sure who, at this point.”
How important is continuity due to having so many changes over the last two years? “It’s important to have it if we can have it. But we’re dealing in a new world here with the new CBA where I believe that there’s going to be more turnover on a year-to-year basis. I think our league is going to be more like baseball. I think there’s going to be more one-year contracts and more guys that are going to be on one-year deals. If that is the case, from a coaching perspective, you’ve got to be able to plug guys into your system quickly and efficiently. That’s one of the challenges I’ve got to take on. We’ll see. A lot of this is new and a lot of this is in the infant stages.
Would you like O.J. Mayo back? “Yeah, I would.”
The rookies: “It’s disappointing that Jared (Cunningham) had the issues he had physically. We like him as a prospect. We think he can be a guy that fits into our system, but we’ve got to get his knee right. This is a big summer for him. Crowder and Bernard James both did a terrific job for us. Their maturity was evident because they were able to step in. During one stretch of the season, we had two second-round picks in our rotation, which is a challenging situation. I thought they handled it well and got better. There’s some positives there. (Josh) Akognon we have under contract, so he’ll be with us in the summer and in training camp next year. That’s the way the plan is right now. I view him also as an intriguing prospect.
Can Mayo be a foundation piece? “I like O.J. a lot. I think he fits into what we’re doing. Like everything else in this world, this is probably going to come down to money. Right now, I don’t know where all that stuff is going to stand. He had a very good year for us, so there’s going to be a lot of team’s interested in him.”
How do you think Mayo handled all the added responsibility that was thrust onto him during the year? “He took quantum leaps as a player this year. He was never known as a playmaker and the analytics would tell you he wasn’t in a lot of playmaking situations. He became one of our effective playmakers. That’s a real positive for him in his career. Look, we invested a lot in him in terms of time and things like that. In a lot of ways, it’s a no-brainer to want to have him back. Again, it’s on how it all shakes down with things in the summer, money and all those things.”
What do you think happened to him as a scorer in the final chunk of the season? “The dynamics of our team changed, teams still game-planned for him heavily because he was our leading minutes guy and there was a strong correlation between him having efficient scoring nights and us winning. Look, everyone has this analytic information. With Dirk back in the fold and him getting the primary touches, he was taking out a lot of those volume opportunities that he had earlier in the year. How exactly you analyze that is a bit subjective, depending on what your situation is.
“I love O.J. as a kid, as a person. I spent more time with him this year than probably any player I’ve ever had. With him, I’m like a little-league dad. I wanted him to do well so badly that sometimes it would get the better of me. But that’s OK. Because if you care that much that’s never a bad thing.”
What did you think of your own coaching job this year? “I don’t know. I want to do the best job that I can do for my owner. I want to do the best I can do for my veterans. Mark and Dirk are the two primary guys in my life. Those two guys have given me an unbelievable opportunity here in Dallas, to experience the ultimate a couple of years ago and now to continue on with a long-term contract.
“I think it’s just so important in coaching because it’s so intense and so emotional. When you get a team with challenges like we had this year, sometimes there are things that happen along the way that put things into perspective. For example, we had a game in early January that was a very, very difficult loss at home. It really upset me. I went home that night, and my daughter, who is eight years old, knew this was really upsetting to me. There’s a room downstairs where I keep all my suits. It’s one of the guest bedrooms. She came in and closed the door behind her. She sat on the bed. I turned around and I said, ‘Hey Abby, what’s up?’ She goes, ‘Dad, you know, in life there’s always going to be bumps along the road.’ That’s a true story. At that moment, it was clear to me that my focus had to shift to doing everything possible to engage our staff, to figure out exactly what the strengths and weaknesses of our players were and to move forward and find a way to make every day a little bit better, if we could.
“I had a lot of help. My staff did a great job this year. Jim O’Brien brought a lot of wisdom, a lot of knowledge. One of the things I’ve prided myself on is I hire guys that I can learn from, and I learned an awful lot from him.”
On someone else who was huge for Carlisle this year: “The other guy that was phenomenal this year was Dirk because of the challenges he faced really from day one with the knee. I remember being in Europe and the thing flared up right before the Barcelona game … Dirk really hung in. He nurtured in our younger guys who had challenges. He stayed patient and he was a leader. Marion and Carter did the same thing. Those games were great. We got through it. The great Chuck Daly said that the job of the head coach is to land the plane safely at the end of the year. That’s what we wanted to do.”
The mindset: “We’re not kidding ourselves into thinking that we’re right there. We know we have a lot of work to do. As always, I’m grateful. I’m grateful to be here. I’m looking forward to this summer because once again, it’s another pivotal summer. It’s a really important time for us.”
Brandan Wright: “He’s a guy that we obviously like. He’s gotten better both years that he’s been here. He’s a guy that we have a great interest in having back. I think that’s obvious. That’ll be one of our priorities this summer. Again, I can’t speak to what the dynamics are going to be in terms of the finances and those kinds of things. He’s a guy that we would like to have back.”
Personally, do you take any time off to recharge your battery? “My battery is always kind of going. I’m going to come in every morning early and find things to do. Again, part of formulating a plan for this summer, I’m going to be thinking about a lot of those things. Anything that I can add to what our ultimate plan is, I will … We’ve got to have lists of all the guys we like from top to bottom. At the right time, we’re going to try to pluck those guys and make them Dallas Mavericks when we can. There’s plenty to do.
“I love the NBA. Next year will be my 30th year in the league so I’ve been very blessed to have an opportunity to be in this a long time. It’s a great life. This league, it makes you absolutely alive every single day. There’s always stuff to be thinking about. Those are the kinds of things that make you better.”
Bryan Gutierrez writes about sportsmen. He is a contributing writer for Mavs.com. Bryan also attended Ball So Hard University. You can follow him on Twitter @BallinWithBryan.