DALLAS – Donnie Nelson mentally jotted down a few things on his wish-list that he wanted the Dallas Mavericks to accomplish this offseason. And the Mavs’ president of basketball operations made no bones about what’s at the very top of that list.
It involves getting some help for coach Rick Carlisle.
“Getting Rick ammunition is our No. 1 priority in the offseason,” Nelson said. “And we’ve got a great opportunity in the draft.
“Free agency, as you know, we’ll be extremely active. There are trade fronts, obviously, that will be probed as well.”
The NBA Draft is June 21 and the free agency period starts July 1.
On numerous occasions over the past decade, Nelson has made it perfectly clear that he considers Carlisle as one of the top coaches in the NBA. He also made it known that he has to deliver some quality players at Carlisle’s doorstep in order for him to have an honest shot at getting the Mavs back in the playoff conversation.
That didn’t happen this past season as the Mavs finished with a 24-58 record and missed the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
“In our opinion it was an extremely difficult year for our head coach,” Nelson said. “I don’t know what the record is in terms of G-League players (called up to the NBA), but we’re right up there.”
Nelson knows of the hard labor and long hours Carlisle continuously puts in working with his players before, during and after practice. He also knows Carlisle’s players speak highly of him and appreciate him going the extra mile in helping them elevate their game.
“What you don’t know about Rick is — as much as anyone on our development program — he is out here working with our young players,” Nelson said. “We all know he’s got the great X and O chess game that won us a championship (in 2011).
“But what you don’t see is a guy that is literally. . .he will go fly to every one of our player’s homes in the summer, roll up his sleeves, do their individual camps and then work with them individually. I don’t know another coach in the NBA that does that, and that’s what makes Rick the special coach that he is.”
Carlisle has spent the past 10 years as the Mavs’ coach and is the franchise’s all-time winningest coach with 437 victories. The Mavs have made seven playoff appearances and won 50-plus games in four different seasons under Carlisle.
Meanwhile, Carlisle can feel the tide about to turn in the Mavs’ favor.
“I like this franchise. I should say I love this franchise,” Carlisle said. “Being here 10 years I knew that there was going to be a point where things would take a downturn.
“It’s almost impossible to stay really good forever, and unfortunately at times you have to get really bad to get really good again. And so while our record was really bad, I’m very optimistic about the progress that we made, but you can’t put lipstick on a pig. A 24-win season is a 24-win season, and we’ve all got to get better.”
What drives Carlisle is his unyielding passion for the game and his overwhelming desire to help players fulfill their life-long dreams and have a productive and successful career in the NBA. He also knows that owner Mark Cuban, assistant vice-president of basketball operations Michael Finley, assistant general manager Keith Grant and Nelson are constantly beating the bushes in search of quality young talent they can add to the Mavs’ roster.
“I have a great belief in our owner, I have a great belief in Donnie and Michael Finley and Keith Grant as executives, and I like our young players,” Carlisle said. “I love (point guard) Dennis Smith, I love (forward Harrison) Barnes, (forward Dwight) Powell has taken a big step up this year, (and center Maxi) Kleber has shown us that he’s an important multi-dimensional player.
“I’m really excited to have (forward) Dirk (Nowitzki) come back for another year, and (guard J.J.) Barea probably had the best year of his career this year. (Guard) Wesley (Matthews) will be coming fresh off an injury and he’ll be raring to go.”
Nelson, in the meantime, is very confident the Mavs will be back in the playoffs next season.
“Again, this is a situation that we aren’t used to,” Nelson said. “It’s literally a fish out of water deal. This is just not the Dirks, the JJs, the Wes Matthews and Harrison.
“Every one of our guys hurt and bleeds after games, and that’s the DNA that we’re looking for. So you can imagine what kind of excruciatingly painful year it’s been in that locker room.”
Nelson acknowledged that this also was an excruciatingly painful year for the Mavs fans.
“Our fans, you know, again, deserve better than this,” Nelson said. “The good news is that we’ve been through the drill before, we know how it’s done and this is a major draft and free agency period that we have.”