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Reunion in Indy: Rick Carlisle returning to Pacers as head coach
He was on Larry Bird's staff and then served as Pacers head coach from 2003-07.
The Pacers have reached agreement with Rick Carlisle to be the team’s next head coach, league sources confirmed to Fieldhouse Files.
Owner Herb Simon made a significant investment, giving Carlisle a four-year deal worth $29 million plus incentives, according to a league source.
That’s more than $7 million per year, on par with what he made in Dallas and twice what former Pacers head coaches Frank Vogel and Nate McMillan made each year. The deal was negotiated directly by president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard.
Tim MacMahon of ESPN first reported the hiring.
Carlisle is regarded as one of the best coaches in the NBA. He brings a wealth of experience, first as an NBA player from 1984-89, then as an assistant 1989-2000 before becoming a head coach (2001-present).
The Pacers are hoping that the third time is the charm with Carlisle. He first arrived to Indianapolis in 1997, joining Larry Bird’s staff and serving as the offensive coordinator. After Bird moved on after three seasons, Isiah Thomas was hired as head coach and Carlisle got his first head-coaching opportunity with the Detroit Pistons.
Then in 2003, he returned to Indy and had one of the best teams in franchise history (2004-05), but it was spoiled by The Brawl.
The team’s image needed to be repaired, players were dealt and the roster was retooled. After the 2006-07 season, the Pacers and Carlisle went in different direction, and the team missed the playoffs four straight years (2007-2010).
Carlisle, 61, was hired by Mark Cuban to coach the Mavericks in 2008 and he had been there ever since, winning a championship in 2011. He’s also the president of the National Basketball Coaches Association.
The Pacers have 12 players under contract for next season, including all five starters. Injuries sidetracked everything this past season and a rebuild is not in the cards.
Carlisle to Fieldhouse Files: “Situation with upside. Like the roster and skillset of team.”
He becomes the 16th coach in franchise history — taking over for Nate Bjorkgren, who was Pacers head coach for just eight months. (The Pacers are on the hook to pay Bjorkgren next season as well.)
“We've got guys on our team that have earned the right to have a voice (on the next coach),” Pritchard said earlier this month, “but I do believe there's a point where someone has to make a decision that pushes those players to push the envelope so they become the best and they don't fall into 'I'm just going to play into what I do best.' You got to push players. This is human management. What you got to do is you got to get them to be their best — and that's what great coaches do.”
The team is coming off a 34-38 season, including 13-23 at home, and missed out on the playoffs for the first time in six seasons. They were challenged by lack of time together, injuries, awful defense and Bjorkgren’s poor interpersonal skills.
“I wanted to take a chance and have something that maybe had a lower floor but a higher ceiling,” Pritchard said of his change in mentality. “And this year, maybe it's skewed down a little bit and maybe (we’ll) look at something a little bit different.”
So this time, the front office valued experience and previous success — and benefited from Carlisle suddenly becoming available. He resigned as Mavs coach on June 17 with two years left under contract.
Hiring Carlisle is a huge offseason victory for the Pacers and should help re-energize the fan base.