By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
I was totally prepared to be under-whelmed by the new Dallas Mavericks' head coach, Rick Carlisle.
Micro-manager bordering on control freak. Unyielding commitment to defense at the expense of offense. Impersonal. Indifferent. Shoddy communicator. Plodding half-court system predicated on him calling plays every stinking possession.
But after further review—after meeting, greeting and, yes, believing the new boss—Carlisle, at least initially, isn't any of those things. In fact, he and Avery Johnson are no more Twins than Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Proof? Diametrically opposed to his predecessor, the Mavericks now have a head coach who plays golf, sends texts and isn't stubbornly determined to turn Jason Kidd into Jason Kapono. Based on an impressive first couple days that blew away the preconceived notions of everyone from me to Dirk Nowitzki, Carlisle has at least earned the right to prove he's different.
Johnson didn't like these Mavs that have produced eight consecutive seasons of 50-plus victories, shouting on his way out the door that Kidd was a liability and the team only overachieved through his miracle workings and divine intervention. Carlisle says he loves these Mavs, believing they're only a few tweaks and a Kidd unleashing away from returning to the NBA Finals.
"If I've got a point guard who can run a team, I let him run the team," Carlisle said at last week's introductory press conference at American Airlines Center. "Jason Kidd is certainly more than capable of running this team."
Feel that? Someone just opened a window.
After supplementing my flawed suppositions with corrected conclusions, I determined that the two coaches indeed have similar characteristics but diverge vastly on the details. Kinda in the way that a lot of my former girlfriends looked the same, but acted uniquely kooky.
My knee-jerk assumption that Carlisle was merely a pale Johnson clone was skewed. Time will tell if it was altogether wrong. But for now, instead of automatically loathing him I'm open to liking him.
Look between the lines, and you just might join me:
Supposition: Richard Preston Carlisle is bland, predictable and downright boring.
Conclusion: He's already been to the House of Blues with owner Mark Cuban, plays piano with friend Bruce Hornsby and his first date with his wife was to a Grateful Dead concert in 1987. Besides, if you've been hired by Larry Bird and Mark Cuban you must have a little pizzazz, right?
Supposition: The Mavs only hired Carlisle because no one else was available.
Conclusion: Don't believe Mavs general manager Donnie Nelson when he says, "There was no Plan B," because he was actually Plan A. But when Cuban approached him about the job, Nelson considered the grind and the availability of longtime friend Carlisle and decided to pass. "Honestly, there was a better guy for the job than me, and it was Rick," Nelson said in the hallway after the press conference. "I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't hire him." The Mavs signed Carlisle to a four-year, $17 million contract without interviewing other candidates.
Supposition: Carlisle is a Caucasian copy of Johnson.
Conclusion: As to how the two approach the game, Nelson says, "There are similarities. Their axis is defense. They're workaholics. They've got integrity. They're winners. But to say they're the same guy just isn't true. Rick is the perfect guy for this job because of his balance. He'll be Avery-esque in his commitment to defense, but he'll open up a lot of new avenues for us on offense." And personality-wise, the two are different: Said Carlisle, "I'm a very humble guy," to which Cuban later added, "Are they the same? Well, during all our interviews I didn't hear Rick say 'me' one time." Discussion over.
Supposition: Carlisle is a crappy communicator.
Conclusion: In his first 48 hours on the job, he had "lunch" with Nowitzki and dinner with Josh Howard. Nowitzki, summoned to Cuban's mansion to meet the new coach, found himself not eating, but rather digesting information as Carlisle demonstrated how Bird created ways to score in the low post. "One of the first things he did was ask me what I liked," Nowitzki said after the press conference. "He's been really communicative to me. I think that's what Avery was missing, communicating to us individually."
Supposition: It's Carlisle's way or the highway.
Conclusion: He'll be the final coaching voice, sure. But allowing sports psychologist Don Kalkstein back into the mix—Avery had 86ed him—is a sign that Carlisle's regime won't be a dictatorship.
Supposition: Since they were both (Johnson for the '99 San Antonio Spurs and Carlisle the '86 Celtics) afterthought guards on championship teams, their pedigree and philosophy are somehow cosmically connected.
Conclusion: Actually, this one is dead on. In the same synchronistic way that the bitch named "Karma" last week caused infamous ambulance-chasing attorney Brian Loncar's 2008 Bentley to be T-boned by a fire engine.
Supposition: Carlisle, like Johnson, will recycle old basketball clichés.
Conclusion: Guilty. Sorta. "You can never underestimate the pride of veteran players," Carlisle said. You get the feeling he was channeling former Houston Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich's famous "heart of a champion" battle cry, but edited himself when he remembered the Mavs have not yet been champions.