Rick Carlisle searches for Brian Cardinal-like grittiness from Mavs

INDIANAPOLIS — Although his playing career doesn’t mirror that of 11-time All-Star power forward Dirk Nowitzki, the contribution of 12-year NBA veteran Brian Cardinal to the 2011 champion Dallas Mavericks will always be remembered in franchise lore.

Joining the Mavericks (1-2) on a non-guaranteed contract during training camp that year, Cardinal would work his way onto the roster by the time the regular season got underway. The 6-foot-8 big man then found himself playing major minutes for the team in the NBA Finals as the franchise claimed its first title in six games over the Miami Heat.

And it’s Cardinal’s story that Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle shared with his players during the squad’s Wednesday morning shootaround before taking on the 0-3 Indiana Pacers in exhibition play as the former Purdue standout watched his former team prepare at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

“Well, I can sum it up this way. He was plus 18 in the championship-clinching game in Miami, and after playing situationally the whole year he was thrust into the rotation those last three games. His contribution was as important as anybody to us winning, so he’s a special guy and a great example for young guys looking to make it in this league,” Carlisle said while highlighting Cardinal’s role on that title team.

“He touched on that season and my role, and I think the biggest takeaway is that everybody’s role is critical,” Cardinal added. “Regardless of whether you’re Dirk or what level you are, everybody’s role is critical and you have to embrace it. You’re never satisfied and you always want a more significant role, but you have to embrace the role you have. And we did that when we won our championship. Everybody had a critical role. If you go back looking throughout the whole season, everybody played critical minutes at some point and time, whether it was in the Finals or whether it was the first quarter of the first game of the season, and I think that was the main point he was trying to get across to the guys. Regardless of whether you’re on the team right now or you’re fighting for a spot, you have to find your niche and find a way to impress people.”

Handling much of the duty work for that championship squad, Cardinal says he simply tried to play his role to make life easier on Nowitzki and the team’s more notable veterans. That’s a role Carlisle now hopes will be filled by one or more of the young contributors on this year’s team as the Mavs try to get back to a championship level three seasons removed from hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

“You know, I’m hoping [DeJuan] Blair fills that void and we’ve got some other guys. I mean, [Jae] Crowder is one of those guys, and generally we’re trying to develop a grittiness,” Carlisle said. “That happens when you work hard and do things hard together and spend long hours, all that kinds of stuff. You know, we’ll get there.”

Note: The Mavericks return to action Wednesday night on the road in Indiana for a matchup against the Pacers. The game will tip off at 6 p.m. CT.

The team returns to American Airlines Center Oct. 23 against the Atlanta Hawks. The game will air locally on Fox Sports Southwest at 7:30 p.m. CT. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by calling (214) 747-MAVS (6287) or by visiting Mavs.com.