Carlisle stresses excellence through change

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Posted: May 14, 2008

The last three playoff exits weren’t easy for any of the Mavericks to deal with, and the aftermath has opened up plenty of questions for a franchise in transition. Rick Carlisle was hired to help answer some of those questions.

Introduced during a Wednesday afternoon press conference inside American Airlines Center, Carlisle talked candidly about the challenges ahead and opportunity to accomplish something special.

“In any situation, there has to be an acceptance of where you are and that things that happened have happened for a reason,” Carlisle said while standing on the practice court. “The one thing about change is there is an opportunity for things to be a little different, maybe the approach is a little bit different, maybe the tone is a little bit different, who knows.

“We’ve got to make sure that we approach these guys from the standpoint that we’re going to drive them hard, but we’re going to give them confidence and be supportive as well. You can’t be as good a team as you possibly can be unless you have a coaching staff that’s behind you.”

Carlisle took the podium earlier with owner Mark Cuban and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, who both stressed the search for Avery Johnson’s successor zeroed in on Carlisle from the start and never wavered. Carlisle interviewed with several other teams, but said that Dallas emerged as his top choice once talks with Nelson and Cuban began.

“He embodies all the good things that the Mavs are looking to accomplish – hard work, ingenuity, creativity and all the good things we like,” Cuban said.

Anticipation may be another of those qualities. Before anyone had a chance to ask about the team’s offense next season, Carlisle volunteered his vision.

“When you play with Jason Kidd, I think you’ve got to open up the floor and allow him to push it up and our wing guys are going to have to get in condition to really run,” Carlisle said. “The thing that Jason Kidd does better than any point guard probably in the history of the game is push that thing ahead.”

He stressed the importance of conditioning in opening up the offense.

“These guys are going to have to get in great shape because if you’re going to play at a faster tempo offensively, there’s unbelievable physical commitment to doing that and they’re going to find out that playing faster and with momentum is a lot of work,” Carlisle continued. “This will probably be one of the tougher training camps these guys have ever had and I’m looking forward to that.

“Having said all that, we’ve got to be passionate and vigilant about preserving what Avery did here in establishing the defensive end. This team didn’t get to the NBA Finals until they really made a commitment defensively.”

One of the main selling points for Carlisle was the opportunity to build a team around Dirk Nowitzki and Kidd. The roster will be reshaped this summer, but Carlisle sees plenty of talent to work with in Josh Howard, Jason Terry, Erick Dampier and Brandon Bass.

As for Nowitzki and Carlisle, the former MVP and Coach of the Year hit it off during the interview process and their mutual “connection” to Larry Bird. Carlisle played with, coached under and coached for the Hall of Famer. Nowitzki, a fan of Bird, has been compared to No. 33 for years.

“He’s a very genuine and great guy and fun to talk to,” said Nowitzki, who attended the press conference along with Kidd. “I love his knowledge. He’s able to adjust to a lot of things. With the brawl happening, we had a long conversation about that [2005 fight between Indiana and Detroit], which was an absolute mess. He still found a way to win games and no one knew how. He still got it done.”

One of Carlisle’s talks with Cuban drifted to the heart of what every Mavs fan wants to know. What are the expectations for a team that spent much of the decade as part of the Western Conference elite? Cuban’s expectations, as relayed by Carlisle, “82-0 and a championship.”

That didn’t worry the ninth coach in franchise history.

“This is about excellence,” an undaunted Carlisle said.