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What to expect from Rick Carlisle — with ESPN's Tim MacMahon
"I think when Rick turned in his resignation, he knew there was going to be a job waiting for him.”
The Pacers brought Rick Carlisle back for a second stint as head coach less than three weeks ago. Since then, he’s poured over the roster, had conversations with each player, sat in on two pre-draft workouts and worked to line up his new coaching staff.
This after 13 seasons in Dallas, working for loyal IU fan (and former student) Mark Cuban, the outspoken owner of the Mavericks. They won a title together and had a generational talent in Dirk Nowitzki and then recently with Luka Doncic.
To get the scoop on Carlisle and the Mavericks, I had ESPN’s Dallas-based reporter Tim MacMahon on the Fieldhouse Files Podcast. He’s all over the Mavs beat and first had the news that Carlisle was returning to Indy.
“Rick referred to his resignation as something that was mutually beneficial,” he said. “I would agree with that. Here’s where this essentially came down to: Rick knew that if he stuck around in Dallas, he would’ve gone into next season on an extreme hot seat. I’ve reported — it’s no secret, I mean if you have league pass, you can see it with your own eyes — there was definite tension between Rick and Luka Doncic. And look, Luka is not the only player on the roster who had some feelings about Rick or had tuned him out a little bit.
“So for him, why stick around Dallas when it’s a matter of when and not if he’s eventually going to get booted out? He could determine the when — when there was an opportunity for him to find a landing spot that he liked. I think when Rick turned in his resignation, he knew there was going to be a job waiting for him.”
Until that relationship ended recently, Carlisle was the third longest-tenured head coach in the NBA behind San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich and Miami’s Erik Spoelstra — just barely.
Now he takes over a Pacers team that went 34-38 under Nate Bjorkgren last season, failed to reach the postseason and dealt with impactful injuries since training camp.
It’s a fresh start for Carlisle, 61, who had been in Dallas since 2008. It was his only coaching job since leaving the Pacers, who were in a tough spot and had to rebuild their image following The Brawl. He helped bring the Mavs their first and only championship in 2011 and is the winningest coach in franchise history.
Carlisle has coached more than 1,500 NBA games and is an undisputed top-five coach in the league, so of course he’s going to have to influence in Indy. He also got a four-year deal worth more than $29 million.
“He didn’t have a ton of authority (in Dallas),” MacMahon said. “Going back to, for example, if Rick had more say in personnel, the (Rajon) Rondo trade would have never happened (in 2014) — just to name one disaster.
“Despite having a reputation for old-school, hard-nosed type of coach, Rick is very open-minded when it comes to analytics, when it comes to the modernizing of the NBA.”
There was an obvious clash with Carlisle and Luka in Dallas, as MacMahon alluded to. And now Carlisle returns to Indy and comes to a situation where Bjorkgren failed to connect with most of the roster. He failed with the human management, player relations side of things. How Carlisle works with his coaches and connects with the players will be something worth tracking.
“I think that there were some relationship issues there and one thing I will say about Rick is … I think Rick is somebody who can adapt and who can look himself in the mirror and realize areas that he needs to improve,” MacMahon shared. “I think he’s going up to Indiana maybe recognizing some of the mistakes he made in the last few years.
"The other thing is that it’s a different group that he’s taking over in the Pacers. I think it’s a more veteran group, it’s a more mature group. I don’t know exactly how close he is with (Domas) Sabonis, but certainly he had a great relationship with his father back in Portland (1995-97). I don’t think that sort of thing can do anything but help.
“Rick has been a big (Malcolm) Brogdon fan since Brogdon’s days at Virginia. Rick being a Virginia guy himself. But I think Brogdon is also just the kind of point guard … Rick really values. He really values intelligence in a point guard and I think Brogdon certainly fits the bill there.
“I think Rick will go up there understanding that relationships really need to be a priority. I think he’ll get off to a good start there. When things get tense and tough, and there’s rough spots in the season, I think he needs to stay consistent.”
There’s a lot more content on Carlisle to come.
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