Rick Carlisle enters summer unsatisfied with simply returning to playoffs

DALLAS — Unsatisfied with merely returning his team to the postseason and pushing the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs to seven games in the first round of the playoffs, Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle now heads into the offseason with an unfulfilled feeling.

Just months after seeing the Mavericks finish 41-41 while missing out on the playoffs for the first time in 13 seasons, Carlisle was handed a team with nine new faces coming into training camp. He then engineered the Mavs back to the postseason following a 49-33 campaign, coming up short in the decisive Game 7 after a 119-96 defeat that ended Dallas’ season.

“With a group of a lot of new guys, guys came together in relatively short order and we had a very positive run,” Carlisle said while summing up the season during his exit interview. “You know, I thought the last month of the season was a lot of big games just to qualify for the playoffs and put ourselves in a position to compete hard in this series. And you know, the last game was disappointing, but I just love the way the team battled all year long. So, we’ll work to try to keep the team together the best that we can, and from there we’ll try to make the team better any other way that we see fit.”

Facing a Spurs team that finished the 2013-14 season with the NBA’s best record at 62-20, Carlisle and the Mavericks quickly seized the upper hand while taking a 2-1 series lead after a 109-108 Game 3 win ended with sixth man Vince Carter’s 3-pointer as time expired. But the Spurs rallied from there to take three of the next four games in the series, outlasting the valiant Mavs as the two teams rekindled their Southwest Division rivalry.

Still, according to Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, Carlisle and the Mavericks have plenty to be proud of after the eighth-seeded squad gave the No. 1 seed all it could handle.

“Rick did a great job with his game plan,” Popovich said while tipping his hat to his coaching counterpart. “His coaching confounded us. The players were great. It is a really good veteran team that was playing its best basketball here at the end of the year. I congratulate them. They were really tough and really good. The organization should be really proud of that group in a lot of ways. … Rick Carlisle is one of the most clever guys around, and trying to follow all of his stuff is really difficult. That was the toughest part for us, in addition to them playing so well.”

However, just three years removed from hoisting the Larry O’Brien championship trophy, Carlisle is anything but satisfied after seeing his team exit in the first round. And with a commitment to helping Mavs owner Mark Cuban and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson improve his team during the summer, Carlisle vows to learn from this season’s experience while returning focused on reclaiming the title.

“I have to digest that for a while, but you know, I’m never happy if we don’t win a championship,” Carlisle said while downplaying his coaching job this season. “I mean, that’s the kind of standards you come to accustom yourself to when you’re with an organization like this. So, you know, I’ll look at everything and see where we need to do better, and part of that is going to be where we are with the free agents. If we can get most of the team back, we won’t have a lot of upheaval with our system. And if we don’t, we may have to make some significant tweaks. And if we have to, we will.”