Dallas Mavericks' mash-up of Cuban, Carlisle thrives

Posted Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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DALLAS -- Donnie Nelson had a feeling Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle would connect when he played matchmaker back in 2008.

"I thought that they would really click from a statistical and analytical standpoint," said Nelson, the Mavericks' president of basketball operations. "I thought there was some synergy there, but ultimately coaches are hired and fired for winning games."

Carlisle has won big, so that always helps. An NBA championship tends to promote job security.

"Rick is smart. He wants to win," Cuban said. "He is open to any and every idea that will get us there. That is what I look for in any CEO and that is why we get along well."

Nelson, though, wasn't guaranteeing a title when he drove Carlisle to the "5-yard line" in the interview process four off-seasons ago. The Mavericks were searching for a successor to Avery Johnson, the hard-driving coach who took the franchise to the brink of a championship before ultimately flaming out.

Nelson went to the same prep school as Carlisle in Massachusetts, and they both started working in the NBA around the same time. Their common background is one thing. Finding common ground with a demanding and intimately involved owner like Cuban is another.

Carlisle has done that by not compromising his beliefs, while accepting Cuban's.

"The reason it's worked well is because our personalities are completely different," Carlisle said. "In some ways that's been one of the biggest blessing of me being here.

"Mark gives you the support. There's time when you need an honest conversation about things that need to be looked at and he's always there. He's helped me become a much better communicator, too."

Carlisle worked through communication and control issues during his first season in Dallas with his owner's complete support. Carlisle has also worked to change the team's culture, Nelson said.

Carlisle is a defensive coach at heart who's opened up offensively. After initially keeping a tight hold on the reins, even with Jason Kidd, Carlisle learned to let go. The team's "flow" offense is about giving the players the freedom to recognize mismatches and find the best shot.

The Mavericks in the Cuban Era have see-sawed from the free-wheeling coaching ways of Don Nelson, Donnie's father, to Johnson's rigidness.

"Rick really has the best of both worlds," Donnie Nelson said. "He really has the balance. There are no perfect coaches, but the proof in the pudding is there with Rick."

There's also a shared interest in analytics and technology between Carlisle and Cuban. That's not something that Carlisle just picked up in Dallas. It's been on his radar since starting in coaching more than two decades ago.

"When I first came in, we were developing a think pad that you could draw plays on and record frequencies during games," Carlisle said. "And now that's come full circle with the implementation of iPads and things like that.

"Early on I learned that things were going to change quickly in our game and in our sport. You had to be open to those changes and you had to be ready to roll and adapt. And that's where Mark is great, because he's the guy out in front with everything."

The Mavericks are 198-114 under Carlisle's watch, good for the third-most regular-season wins for a coach in team history. He delivered the franchise's first championship in 2011.

As Carlisle embarks on his fifth season with the Mavericks, his relationship with Cuban is as strong as ever.

"With every year just becomes another year of things we've been through together," Carlisle said. "There's growth there. My level of respect for him is always on the rise. I certainly hope it's that way with him with respect to me.

"It's just been a great situation. I have a new four-year contract, but I go day-to-day here with making sure I'm bringing everything I need to bring to make sure this thing is going the way it needs to go with him as my owner."

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