Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle has some remarkable history with great players retiring and stepping into the coaching arena.
Carlisle was an assistant with Indiana in 1997 when Larry Bird decided to dip his feet into the coaching profession. Carlisle was impressed with how flawlessly Bird made the transition from playing to coaching as the Pacers went 58-24 and lost to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals.
“Bird made it look easy,” Carlisle said after Saturday’s practice. “We didn’t get off to a great start that year in Indiana, but he ended up being Coach of the Year.”
Carlisle is envisioning similar success for Jason Kidd.
Although Kidd’s transition from playing to coaching hasn’t been as seamless, Carlisle believes he’s destined for stardom. Especially because in his first season as Brooklyn’s coach, Kidd has the Nets owning a 36-31 record and the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.
That record is impressive, considering the Nets got off to a rocky 10-21 start and were saddled by injuries and turmoil, particularly after Kidd reluctantly demoted longtime friend and assistant coach Lawrence Frank in December.
“One of the things about coaching is being able to bring a team out of a tough period, and he’s been phenomenal,” Carlisle said. “They’re on a good path and they’re playing great and they’re a very talented, well-coached team.”
The Nets are 26-10 since Jan. 2 and have won 10 of their last 12 games. The Mavs (42-28) hope to slow them down Sunday night at 6:30 when the teams face off at American Airlines Center.
Kidd, who turns 41 years old Sunday, was the starting point guard for Carlisle when the Mavs captured the 2011 NBA title. The only two holdovers from that squad are Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion.
While Kidd was the unofficial coach on the court during his playing days, Marion knew he was destined to become a coach after he retired.
“He was a coach on the floor and he’s doing a good job over there,” Marion said. “I knew it was just a matter of getting everybody healthy over there and everybody on the same page.”
As far as basketball IQ goes, Kidd had few equals.
“He’s over the charts,” Marion said of Kidd’s basketball IQ. “For me just being able to play with him … it was just awesome.
“He’s going to be a great coach.”
Sunday is Kidd’s first trip to Dallas since he became the Nets’ coach during the off-season. Nowitzki, meanwhile, is eager to see him.
“After a tough start I think he looks comfortable over there, and he’s enjoying it, so I’m happy for him,” Nowitzki said. “I think in life or in any profession, you have to learn and you have to get better.
“This is just the beginning for him — this is his first year — he’ll get more experience and be even better. He’s got all the tools, he has a great mind for basketball already while he was playing, and he’s going to be a great coach in this league.”
Kidd played for Carlisle from 2008-12, and even Carlisle marvels about the insights on basketball he’s gleaned from Kidd.
“My working with him for four years was great for me because I learned an awful lot about the point guard position and about the game through the eyes of one of the great players,” Carlisle said. “If you watched their team you can tell that they really are connected to him and what he wants them to do and what his vision is.
“The fact that he’s a former great player really enhances that, too. He’s one of the all-time greats ever to play that position, and we couldn’t have won a title without him here, there’s no doubt about that.”
Ellis sits out practice
As a precaution, guard Monta Ellis sat out Saturday’s practice because of a right thigh contusion.
The Mavs don’t believe the injury is serious, and Ellis will be in the starting lineup Sunday against the Nets.
“Ellis is banged up,” Carlisle said. “He didn’t do anything in practice [Saturday] — other than a walk-through.
“We’ll try to get him patched up for [Sunday]. He’s an important guy for us, obviously.”