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4 reasons why Rick Carlisle left the Dallas Mavericks

Alan Johnson

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After 13 seasons with the Dallas Mavericks, Rick Carlisle is now the coach of the Indiana Pacers. During his tenure in Dallas, Carlisle won a championship and was often considered one of the best coaches in the NBA. His resignation comes on the heels of Donnie Nelson’s firing as general manager, signaling a new era in Dallas. Here are four reasons why Rick Carlisle stepped down from the Dallas Mavericks.

Front office turmoil

From the outside, Dallas seemed like a model franchise, with a long-tenured general manager/coach combi and a superstar player in Luka Doncic. However, the team’s perfect image was shattered by a bombshell report from The Athletic. The story focuses on division in the front office, specifically between the director of quantitative research and development, Haralabos Voulgaris, and the rest of the franchise.

The article alleges a power struggle between Voulgaris, Nelson and Carlisle with owner Mark Cuban taking the millionaire gambler’s side over his general manager and coach. One of the more remarkable details from the story was Voulgaris allegedly dictating starting lineups and rotations to Rick Carlisle.

Carlisle is one of the most-respected names in basketball and has a long track record of success. If his coaching decisions were farmed out to Cuban’s crypto buddy, it suddenly makes a lot of sense why Carlisle would leave Dallas.

Rick Carlisle, Donnie Nelson are close friends

rick carlisle and donnie nelson are close friends.
Jun 22, 2018; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks general manager Donnie Nelson answers questions during a press conference at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

A factor that can’t be underestimated is how close Carlisle was to Nelson during their time in Dallas. They’ve been friends for over four decades, dating back to attending the same private school as children. The friends stayed in touch as Nelson rose through the Mavericks’ front office and Carlisle coached in Detroit and Indiana. When Dallas had an opening for head coach, Nelson flew to Indianapolis to interview Carlisle in his own home.

When Donnie Nelson was fired, Carlisle lost his friend, but also his closest confidante in a clearly tulmotious organization. Faced with the prospect of a new boss for the first time in his tenure in Dallas, Carlisle made the easy choice to resign.

Poor roster construction impact Rick Carlisle and his tenure

rick carlisle
May 30, 2021; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle reacts during the third quarter against the LA Clippers in game four in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

As much good as Donnie Nelson did in Dallas, his last years were full of moves that didn’t pan out. The Kristaps Porzingis trade was a slam dunk at the time — and was still worth the risk — but the Latvian big man has struggled as a Maverick. He hasn’t found his role in the Mavs flow offense and was a huge liability all season on defense. 

This has been a similar story with most of Nelson’s recent trades. Acquiring JJ Redick was smart on paper, but the sharpshooter wanted to play in Brooklyn and was hurt for the entire playoff run. Josh Richardson made sense as a defensive guard, but his play on both sides of the floor regressed while Seth Curry became an integral part of the Philadelphia 76ers’ offense. 

Dallas has always struggled in free agency, so Nelson has always focused on the draft and trades. Drafting Doncic was a great move and so was grabbing Jalen Brunson in the second round. Otherwise, Nelson’s record has been very poor, with only a handful of decent rotation pieces since Dirk Nowitzki was drafted in 1998.

Despite the roster problems, Rick Carlisle has done wonders in Dallas — making the playoffs nine out of his 13 years at the helm. In 2014, he famously took the San Antonio Spurs to seven games with an eighth-seed Mavericks team, before the Spurs won the title. Even this past season, Dallas losing in seven to a more-talented Los Angeles Clippers squad was a great achievement. Taking away Doncic, the Pacers have a much better roster than Dallas. In the Eastern Conference, Carlisle and the Pacers can go on run similar to the Hawks this season. That wasn’t going to happen in Dallas.

It was time to for Rick Carlisle to move on

Despite the circumstances of his departure, Carlisle’s time with the team had probably run its course. Thirteen seasons is an eternity for an NBA coach. Only Gregg Popovich and Erik Spoelstra have been with their teams longer and they both won championships more recently than Carlisle. And Carlisle hasn’t been the most popular coach.

Always an ornery figure, Rick Carlisle clearly rubbed some players the wrong way. His most high-profile dust up was with Rajon Rondo, but Carlisle’s abrasive style was starting to clash with Doncic. According to ESPN’s Tim McMahon, there had been “simmering tension” between Carlisle and Doncic. If Dallas had to make a choice between Carlisle and Doncic, the answer would be obvious.

Carlisle was a great coach in Dallas and will be a great coach with the Indiana Pacers. Mark Cuban and the Mavericks have some big decisions to make and he won’t be an easy person to replace.