Carlisle on Mavericks: 'We feel good about where we are'
Rick Carlisle is one of the best head coaches in the NBA, and he has been for some time. Carlisle, 60, is in his 12th season with Dallas, ranking third among the longest-tenured coaches with one club behind San Antonio's Gregg Popovich (24th) and Miami's Erik Spoelstra (12nd, hired a month before Carlisle). Portland's Terry Stotts (eighth) is fourth.
Before coming to Dallas, Carlisle was head coach at Detroit (two years) and Indiana (four years). He also spent three seasons with the Trail Blazers (1994-97) as an assistant coach under P.J. Carlesimo.
Going into the Mavericks' Tuesday game with the Los Angeles Clippers, Carlisle had a career regular-season won-loss record of 778-642 as a head coach, ranking him 17th best for victories all-time. In his first 17 seasons, Carlisle's teams made it to the playoffs 11 times. The Mavericks won the championship in 2010-11, but haven't gotten past the first round since and missed the playoffs the past three seasons.
Behind second-year superstar Luka Doncic, Dallas has rebounded from a 33-49 record in 2018-19 to forge a 27-15 mark, good for fifth place in the Western Conference. Carlisle took the time for a phone interview with the Portland Tribune prior to the Mavericks' Thursday visit to Moda Center to face the Blazers.
Tribune: How do you feel about the way the Mavericks have played as you pass the midway mark of the regular season?
Carlisle: There is a positive feeling about the team all around. So far, we've done well. Could we have done better? Probably. But we could have done worse, too. We feel good about where we are, but our schedule is going to be challenging to finish the season.
Tribune: You lead the NBA in offensive rating and are also among the top 10 in scoring, 3-pointers made, 3-point percentage and effective field goal percentage (.545). What are the key factors to that kind of success?
Carlisle: We have a lot of skilled players. Doncic has had a phenomenal year. We're a team that believes in guys who can drive it and shoot 3's. Whatever those numbers mean, we've at least shown we can do it.
Tribune: Did you have any idea what you had when you drafted Luka?
Carlisle: I was taking (general manager) Donnie Nelson's word for it. I hadn't seen Luka in person. I'd seen him on (video). Donnie said he was by far the best player in that draft. That has proved to be the truth. I was open-minded and very much hopeful he was going to be as good as Donnie said he was. He has been, and probably better.
Tribune: You also acquired Kristaps Porzingas last season to give the Mavericks a real 1-2 punch. Before he got hurt this season, what did Porzingis show you?
Carlisle: He's a 7-3 guy who plays both ends at a high level. That's the simple description. His ability to space the floor and drive and make plays on offense is special for a guy 7-3. Defensively, his rebounding and rim protection are very good, too.
Tribune: Last year, you compared Porzingis and Doncic to Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash, saying, "only these guys are taller." Did you mean it?
Carlisle: That was Donnie's quote. It's one you can make, and it has some logic to it. But these guys are different players. It's a different time. I'm not big into comparisons. I stay away from them. You can get into some stuff. I like guys to be their original selves.
Tribune: You look like you're having fun coaching this team.
Carlisle: I am. It's a great group, a young team that has a chance to grow together. It's an easy group to like. They go hard, they practice hard, they like each other. It's been a very positive experience.
Tribune: You've been in rebuild mode the last three years. How difficult is that for you as a coach?
Carlisle: They're never easy. I thought Terry did a phenomenal job with two rebuilds in Portland — the one when he first got there (2012), and then when LaMarcus Aldridge left (2015) and they decided to break up that group of veterans. They got it together and made it to the conference finals. It was amazing. Our goal is to do the same thing.
Rebuilds are not easy. I went through one in New Jersey when I first became an assistant. It was a five-year rebuild that took three years to get to the playoffs, but that was in the East, which was the weaker conference.
This has been challenging, but there has been a plan in place all along and a road map, and we have an opportunistic owner (Mark Cuban) and general manager. We've gotten ourselves to a pretty good position pretty quickly.
Tribune: What do your remember of your three years with P.J. in Portland in your second coaching job?
Carlisle: I have very fond memories. The city was wonderful. The experience with the Blazers was wonderful. Paul Allen was an amazing owner. We all miss Paul. He was a very special man. P.J. and (general manager) Bob Whitsitt were great; the players were great. It was a significant three years for me. I went from a young assistant with New Jersey, and then when I came to Portland I had an elevated set of responsibilities, which was great for me at the time. I was the opponent (preparation) person on the staff, and I did every team in the league. I oversaw it, and Dan Burke worked with me.
Tribune: What do you like most about coaching?
Carlisle: It's challenging every day. We have a great game that is constantly evolving. We are all working to set the pace when we can and adapt when we have to. It's a really dynamic business, a great experience every year.
Tribune: How do you feel about how the game has evolved into what amounts to a 3-point shooting contest?
Carlisle: As it turns out, it's been a blessing for the game. In the late '90s and early 2000s, there was a real challenge with the lack of scoring. The game had gotten too physical. People weren't sure how the game was going to go. There was talk about making the court bigger, doing the kinds of things that were not possible because of the configuration of arenas.
As the 3 became a more popular and factual part of the game, it opened up the floor. In 2000-01, when Jerry Colangelo group's came in and overhauled the rules — making zone defense legal and other things to get the ball moving more — that was the beginning of a new trend of grassroots skill development at all positions.
Now in most cases, you have all five men shooting 3's. It has opened up the floor, created more driving and ball movement, more shooting skills. It's all good things in my view.
Tribune: You're now in your 15th season as president of the NBA Coaches Association, an important voice for your peers in a number of areas.
Carlisle: It's been a special experience. It's been a lot of work. I've learned so much about how the league works. We work very hard to get some important things done. It's been gratifying. The work goes on.
Tribune: You're moving up on the NBA's list for career coaching victories, just six behind No. 16 Gene Shue, who won 784 games in his career. How much longer would you like to coach?
Carlisle: I go day to day. I have (three) years left on my contract. I stay in the moment as best I can. I feel like I'm on a set of 100 one-day contracts. As long as I approach it that way, I'll keep enjoying it. As far as how long I'd like to go ... I'm not looking to get out any time soon.
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