Anyone thinking Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle is on the verge of pulling his hair out because his team is already assured of having a losing season better think again.
Despite the Mavericks’ subpar 31-43 record, along with their extremely slim playoff chances, Carlisle is optimistic enough that he still sees the glass as half-full. That might be why, after Thursday’s practice at Rhodes College, Carlisle said, “This is one of the funnest years of coaching I’ve ever had. Because it’s great guys, we’ve seen great improvement and we’ve managed to cultivate a nucleus of young talent here that’s got a chance to play.
“That will serve us well next year. It doesn’t guarantee anything, but it’s hoping to set us up for the future. The other part of this is we’ve got to keep this thing set up so that we’ve got the right guys around Dirk (Nowitzki) so that he can play as long as he can play.”
Carlisle and the Mavericks will bring their bubbly personality into the FedEx Forum on Friday, where they’ll play a 7 p.m. game against the Memphis Grizzlies. With seven losses in their past 10 games, the Mavericks’ playoff hopes are fading.
Then again, Carlisle is the eternal optimist who looks at the Mavericks’ situation with a different set of lenses.
“I don’t look at it that it’s a losing season,” Carlisle said. “All this stuff, you look at the opportunity for improvements, and there’s a big picture.
“Look, I’ve been here nine years and I’m signed up for another five, so I’ve got to look at this like a management/ownership type person that says ‘Here’s what we got, how do we get these guys better today and prepare them to get better tomorrow.’ We’ve got to get to the summertime with a good idea of what we’ve got, figure out who we need to get back, who we need to get rid of, and what we’re going to do in the draft.”
The Mavericks have qualified for the playoffs in 15 of the past 16 years. The only team with a better résumé is the San Antonio Spurs, who’ve been to the playoffs for all 16 of the years when the Mavericks started their streak.
So this is uncharted territory for the Mavericks.
“We’ve still got to come out and represent the Dallas Mavericks in a great way, and just give it our best shot every night,” guard J. J. Barea said. “It’s definitely weird.
“I think it’s my first time with the Dallas Mavericks that I haven’t been close to the playoffs, so yeah it’s definitely weird, but it happens sometimes. You just got to keep going and see what happens.”
Carlisle, who is in his first losing season as the Mavericks’ coach, said he will likely try to get his younger players more minutes during these final eight games.
“Well, there’s going to be opportunities,” Carlisle said. “As I look at the schedule, the back-to-back (Tuesday in Sacramento and Wednesday in Los Angeles against the Clippers), I’m not going to play some of our veteran guys back-to-back.
“They’re going to play one of those two games, so one of those games those (young) guys are going to have an opportunity to play more.”
But by playing young players over the veterans, that doesn’t necessarily mean Carlisle is tossing in the towel on this season.
“Look, it’s pretty obvious we’re playing to win,” Carlisle said. “Our guys are going hard and we’ve had a couple of tough ones here the last couple of games.
“Actually, three if you count the Toronto game. The opponents are good and everybody’s got something to play for. We’ve just got to keep going.”
The Mavericks are trying to win and get the younger players prepared for the future.
“It’s all good,” Carlisle said. “I’ve been positive, I’m going to stay positive and we’re going to keep getting these guys better.”