As the draft and free agency loom, a question on the mind of a lot of athletes will most certainly be, ‘Why Dallas?’ In our new series we’re going to answer just that. Comments? Suggestions? Drop us a line below.
When Monta Ellis signed a three-year deal with the Mavericks last summer, one of the first things he did was meet with Rick Carlisle. Ellis didn’t find the Mavs head coach in Dallas. Instead, he found him in Houston.
Ellis, the new Maverick who’d faced plenty of criticism during his final years in Golden State and Milwaukee — especially toward his jump shot — was anxious to improve his game, to return to the All-Star-caliber level he played at earlier in his career. Carlisle was there for him from the get go.
So the two worked in Houston, not far from Ellis’s summer home, the pair working to hone the mechanical aspects of Ellis’s game. Ellis didn’t want to hear about his much-maligned shot selection, and Carlisle didn’t want to give any lectures. They worked at the little things. Several months later, as Ellis single-handedly blew open a fourth-quarter lead against the San Antonio Spurs in Game 6 of the playoffs, it appeared as if the partnership paid off.
Carlisle is regarded as one of the best coaches in the game. He’s a head boss without a real weakness. Tactically, he’s maybe the best — no team is better out of a timeout and the Dallas offense is unstoppable. When it comes to motivation, there’s no argument against the Mavericks’ belief they could beat the potential champion Spurs this postseason. The Mavs embrace analytics as much as just about any other franchise in the league. As for player development? The results speak for themselves. Why would a star not want to play for him?
Carlisle’s own commitment to Ellis’s return to stardom is far from rare during the coach’s time in Dallas. Carlisle spent similar time with then-Maverick OJ Mayo two summers ago, but unfortunately Mayo wasn’t able to sustain his hot start to the 2012-13 campaign for the entire season. With Ellis, the end result was just the opposite. He kept improving throughout the entire season, to the point where not only was he perhaps the most important player on the team, but he also led the whole team in three-point shooting from the corner. The player who supposedly couldn’t shoot turned out to be the best from the corner on a team full of sharpshooters.
The same could be said for other players viewed almost as reclamation projects when they came to Dallas. Vince Carter, for example, was an aging wing who was supposedly well past his prime. But during the past two seasons, the case could be made that he’s been the best reserve in the NBA. Jason Kidd was the point guard who couldn’t guard point guards, so Carlisle assigned him to guard shooting guards and small forwards, and he did so at a high level. Brandan Wright, who battled injury earlier in his career, is now regarded as one of the most efficient players in the sport. Dirk Nowitzki was the star who couldn’t defend, so Carlisle and Dwane Casey engineered a zone defense that won the Mavericks a championship.
Carlisle shouldn’t get all of the credit. Players have to be willing to change as well — whether it means taking less shots, playing fewer minutes, or sacrificing some other element of their own game. The organization-wide culture also plays a part in that, as the Mavs only sign players who have a desire to fit into the establishment. But the case could be made that more than any member of the organization, Rick Carlisle is the most attractive Dallas asset. Whether he works with a player like Nowitzki, who has sustained excellence for years, or heavily criticized players like Ellis, Carlisle has the ability and know-how to make players fit into his system while also taking their talents to the next level. For players who want to win a championship, there’s no quality in a coach that’s more important.