Rick Carlisle first choice

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Posted: May 10, 2008

From the first time they sat down to talk, Donnie Nelson knew the Mavericks had their man. The interviews that followed just reinforced what the team’s president of basketball operations felt down deep.

Rick Carlisle and the Mavs were a fit.

“He was our top choice,” Nelson said Saturday. “We had him in our sights from the start. The combination of what he brings to the table was exactly what we were looking for.

“Once we got started, the interview process was almost exactly what we thought it would be. He’s a coach who’s growing. He’s learned at every stop along the way. He’s a young coach with a lot of experiences and we’ll see the best of Rick here.”

Dallas is the third coaching job for the 48-year-old Carlisle, and issues followed the 2002 Coach of the Year after both previous stops. Questions regarding his ability to communicate with players and a controlling offensive approach were two of the most prevalent.

Nelson is confident that time, experience and, perhaps most important, a year off the sidelines have served Carlisle well. Not only did he spend the last season working in TV and studying teams around the league, but if he’s picked up a few pointers from his training camp stay in Phoenix, Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki will be happy guys.

“He didn’t stay at home and twiddle his thumbs,” said Nelson, the head of the search for Avery Johnson’s successor. “He’s a student of the game in every sense. He’s got great respect for knowledge and he’s really expanded his outlook on the game.

“He’s got a lot of ideas of how to get into the open court and take advantage of Jason’s creativity. He also had the chance to play with one of the best 3-4s of all time in Larry Bird, and I’m certain he’ll be able to take that and add to Dirk’s game.”

Jerry Stackhouse averaged better than 21 points under Carlisle in Detroit. Reggie Miller, despite being near the end of his career, continued to perform at a high level during Carlisle’s Indiana watch. Carlisle’s strong player development reputation was another plus in Nelson’s book.

In addition to Kidd and Nowitzki, Nelson and Carlisle have engaged in lengthy Josh Howard conversations. Getting the former All-Star back on track after a late-season swoon and even more disappointing playoff run is an offseason priority. Howard’s off-the-court activities didn’t help matters.

“Josh is going to be a big focus for us in the future,” Nelson said. “We’ve got to get him back to the level where he’s capable of performing.

“We’ve already exchanged a lot of ideas about Josh and the makeup of our team as we move forward. That part is exciting for me. He’s got a wealth of ideas. He’s got ideas and he listens and takes input from his assistant coaches.”

Former head coaches Dwane Casey (Minnesota) and Terry Stotts (Milwaukee) are close to joining Carlisle’s staff as assistants. Nelson didn’t rule out any of Johnson’s aides – Paul Westphal, Joe Prunty or Mario Elie – staying since each is under contract, but those decisions are Carlisle’s.

Carlisle, 281-211 in six seasons, signed a four-year deal on Saturday after more than a week of negotiations. The two sides came to an agreement Friday night after hammering out most of the details earlier in the week.

“We couldn’t be more excited,” Nelson continued. “We’ve been working on this for a while and it’s a relief to finally punch it into the endzone. We’re happy and proud to welcome him into the Mavericks family.”