NBA Coaching Report: Rick Carlisle Goes Back To Indiana To Serve As Pacers’ New Head Coach
Carlisle is Pacers’ new head coach
After ending his long and productive tenure with the Dallas Mavericks, it has become apparent that Rick Carlisle will be returning to Indiana to serve as the new head coach of the Pacers. This comes just a week after he and the Mavericks front office announced that they are parting ways, ending a partnership that produced the franchise’s lone NBA championship when they beat LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the heavily-favorited Miami Heat squad in 2011.
As per a breaking report written by Staff Writer Tim MacMahon of ESPN, Carlisle has agreed to a four-year contract with the Pacers, establishing himself as the team’s new head coach. Carlisle is set to be the team’s replacement for Nate Bjorkgren, who was head coach of the Pacers this season. Bjorkgren, a former assistant coach for both the Phoenix Suns and the Toronto Pacers, only spent one year with the Pacers before being fired right after the team was eliminated in the play-in tournament.
During the play-in tournament, the Pacers were able to soundly defeat Terry Rozier and the Charlotte Hornets in the first game. That win pushed them to a do-or-die game against the Washington Wizards for the right to book the last playoff ticket in the Eastern Conference Finals. However, it turned out that the Pacers were a no-match as the Wizards handed them an embarrassing 142-115 loss that ended their 2020-21 NBA campaign.
Before he dives deeper into his preparations and plans for improving the fortunes of the Pacers franchise, Carlisle first took the time to thank the Mavericks organization for the successful partnership that they had in more than a decade. Interestingly, Carlisle also made it known out there that he recommends Jason Kidd to replace him as the next basketball head coach in Dallas. Kidd, who is now an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Lakers, was the Mavericks’ starting point guard when he and Carlisle, along with stars Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry, won that coveted championship in 2011.
"You never want to get to a point where you ever feel like you're overstaying your welcome, and I just felt like this is the right time. I just have such great respect for [Mavs owner Mark Cuban] and everyone there, and I'm fortunate to move on to another great opportunity. My hope is that Jason Kidd will be the next coach of the Mavs because he and Luka have so many things in common as players. I just think that it would be a great situation for Luka, and I think it would be an amazing situation for Jason. I'm the only person on the planet that's coached both of those guys and that knows about all of their special qualities as basketball players. To me, that just would be a great marriage, but that's just an opinion.
I just sent [Doncic] a message thanking him for three amazing years. I learned many things from him, and I told him that I'm glad I'm only going to see him twice a year. I mean it in the most complimentary way, of course. I think he's the best young player in the world. I think these three years set up as a major springboard for the next 10 for him. I expect him to be an NBA champion. I expect him to be a multiple MVP winner. I just have an amazing level of respect for his abilities and his grasp of the game. He's truly a once- in-the-generation type player."
Before he stepped into the head coaching role in the NBA, Carlisle debuted as an assistant coach for the New Jersey Nets during the 1989-90 NBA season. Carlisle spent five seasons with the Nets, before being hired by the Portland Trail Blazers for the same important role. Carlisle served as the Blazers’ assistant coach for three years before he signed with the Pacers in the summer of 1997.
Carlisle spent only three seasons with the Pacers before accepting his first head-coaching job with the Detroit Pistons in the summer of 2001. Carlisle notched two 50-win seasons with the Pistons before going back to Indiana to assume the head coach role for them. He steered the Pacers to an excellent regular season record of 61 wins against 21 defeats, making his mark with the franchise. In his first year as head coach of the Pacers, Carlisle handled excellent and dynamic players like Reggie Miller, Metta World Peace, Jamaal Tinsley, Austin Croshere, Al Harrington, and Jermaine O’Neal.
So it is without a doubt that even during the early stages of his head coaching career, Carlisle already exhibited the excellent ability to handle players with very high personalities and credibility. Carlisle spent three more years with the Pacers before he transferred to the Mavericks, where he would win his first NBA championship as a head coach in the league.
In the past couple of years, the Mavericks have been all about their young superstar Luka Doncic. That is perfectly understandable because Luka is a generational talent who will eventually be a Most Valuable Player awardee in this league. He is not among the elite players in the league in terms of sheer athleticism, but there is no doubt that he is among the most skilled group of superstars. Luka already has two All-NBA First Team selections under his belt, and it is of no surprise if he will be bag the MVP plum even next season or a couple of years from now.
But as pointed out by Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer, it was Carlisle’s adjustment with his system and his rotations that sped up Luka’s rise to prominence. Tjarks emphasized that Carlisle tweaked his player rotations in a way that Luka is now playing with a line-up composed of players and shooters who do not need the ball to be in their hands to be effective. This has given Luka more time with the ball, where he does a lot of magic and wonderful stuff. This has been the name of the game of the Mavericks, and that is evident in how they picked players for Luka’s supporting cast.
Everything in Dallas revolves around Luka’s ability to dominate the ball. He leads the league in touches, at 98.8 per game. LeBron and Nikola Jokic are the only other players this season at more than 91. And Luka’s average amount of time with the ball per game (9.2 minutes) is almost as much as LeBron and Jokic combined (10.8). No NBA player has touched the ball as much as Luka in the past six seasons. It’s not an easy style for the players orbiting him to get used to. He sucks up all the oxygen on offense. A player averaging a near triple-double (30.2 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 9.6 assists per game) doesn’t leave many points, rebounds, or assists for everyone else.
Carlisle has adjusted his rotation accordingly so that the players who don’t need the ball play more with Luka. After using eight different starting lineups in the first 13 games, Carlisle has settled on the same unit over the last six: Doncic, Porzingis, Dwight Powell, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Tim Hardaway Jr. That group has an eye-popping net rating of plus-24.3 in 88 minutes, the best among all lineups in the NBA that have played at least 80 minutes this season. Everyone fits perfectly into their role. Luka is the ball handler in the two-man game and Powell is the roll man, while Porzingis, Finney-Smith, and Hardaway space the floor around them.
But then again, this article is not about Luka and the Mavericks anymore. Carlisle is with a new team, and it is with a very promising Pacers squad. While it is true that they are coming off a disappointing and underwhelming season, it is still a fact that the Pacers’ roster is filled with a whole lot of talent and versatility, especially with their top two stars in Domantas Sabonis and Caris LeVert.
Sabonis, who is on his fifth year in the league, is just coming off his best career performance. The versatile and mobile big man produced an excellent stat line of 20.3 points, 12.0 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.5 blocks per contest, while shooting a very efficient 53% overall clip from the field. Sabonis has always been a good player, but he made the jump from good to borderline great this season. He also notched his second straight All-Star appearance, further establishing himself as one of the best big men in today’s NBA.
As for LeVert, it is without a doubt that he is one of the best young stars in the league right now. The 6-foot-6 combo wing, who will turn 27 years of age this August, came up with an all-around set of averages this season, including 20.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.6 blocks per game. LeVert also produced a 44% overall clip from the field and an efficient 81% clip from the free throw line. LeVert started his career only averaging 8.2 points per game, but he incredibly grown his skill set in the past few years. He has always been a good passer, but the fact that he has further expanded his scoring game made him a harder player to defend and figure out.
Aside from LeVert and Sabonis, the Pacers are also filled with good players such as defensive big man Myles Turner, steady point guard Malcolm Brogdon, scoring combo forward T.J. Warren, spitfire gunner Jeremy Lamb, and young point guard Aaron Holiday. But for these players to thrive, they have to be put into a system where there is continuity. They did not get that as they have been through two different head coaches in the past couple of years. As per Bob Kravitz of The Athletic, it is true that Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard did not make the right decision of bringing in a first-year head coach like Bjorkgren. Bjorkgren was not able to bring out the best in his players, and part of it could be because he does not have a lot of credibility in his resume. Kravitz pointed out that having some kind of continuity will be essential for this team, and the Pacers will be getting that in the form of a veteran head coach like Rick Carlisle.
I give Pritchard a little credit — emphasis on a little — for acknowledging the massive error and resisting the temptation to retain Bjorkgren in the hope of salvaging his own bruised reputation. He could have said, “Well, it was a pandemic year, he’s a first-year NBA head coach, let’s give him a mulligan.” He instead pulled the plug before things could get worse. I give him a lot of blame — emphasis on a lot — for firing McMillan (owner Herb Simon played a huge role there, too) and hiring a first-time NBA head coach who ran afoul of his players in due course.
Pritchard insisted he did his due diligence in hiring Bjorkgren — “We had at least 50 pages of notes on all our candidates,” he said — and said stories suggesting otherwise were nonsense, but it’s clear something went terribly awry in the hiring process. You can blame Bjorkgren all you want, but when your hire fails so quickly and spectacularly, that’s a reflection on the person doing the hiring. While Pritchard is searching for his third coach in three years — and we’ll get to the unofficial candidate list shortly — he might want to take a long, hard look at his locker room. Clearly, this is a group that is hard to keep happy. Clearly, this is a team that employs some clubhouse lawyers. If you fire one coach due to internal unhappiness, it’s easy to look at the coach in question. But two coaches in two years? Anybody going for the hat trick?
In terms of their player personnel, Pritchard and the rest of the Pacers front office have a lot left to figure out. There have been tons of speculations about other teams’ interest in trading for Turner, who has turned out to be an excellent defensive player who can also space the floor with his above average shooting from long range. Moreover, it also seems like having Sabonis operate in the center position provides him with more leeway of operating inside the paint.
Along with Turner’s situation with the team, the Pacers also have to address the depth of their second unit. They would need more shooters around Sabonis and LeVert, and more shot creators when both of those players take their much-needed rest in between quarters.