Questioning Rick Carlisle’s Extension

Today the Mavericks announced the decision to extend Rick Carlisle‘s contract for an additional five years for a grand total of $35 million. Everywhere I look, people seem to be rejoicing over this news, celebrating Carlisle as a franchise stalwart who simply can’t be let go. I’m a little new to my Mavericks fandom, of course, so maybe that’s the only reason I’m dumb enough to ask this question, but is a team that may need to completely rebuild in the near future necessarily smart for ponying up the big bucks on a coach with such a strong link to the recent successful past?

I do know I’m not the first person to question whether Carlisle would want to be around if Dallas did decide to launch into a full rebuild, but as far as I can tell, all those questions seemed to be directed toward the coach’s best interest rather than the team’s. As a new fan, I really can’t be bothered to get too emotional about what the team has accomplished since Carlisle first started pacing the sidelines in a suit on the Mavericks’ behalf; I want to know what his continued presence is going to bring to the team’s future.

On the one hand, he is routinely said to be among the very best coaches in the game, frequently mentioned in the same breath as San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, and that kind of praise shouldn’t fall on deaf ears. Carlisle has also established a reputation as perhaps the very best coach in the league when it comes to tactics, something that matters even more to me. I’ve been struggling to put this into words since I returned to my NBA roots almost two weeks ago, but basketball is a game of X’s and O’s in a way baseball is not. Don’t get me wrong; an overseer on the sidelines can only do much in any sport, but aside from basic strategy, baseball essentially plays itself out with only a few key managerial decisions along the way, largely involving bullpen usage. This is not the case for basketball, so a coach with strong tactical abilities is a huge plus. It should also be noted that my favorite baseball team has a manager who is in no way associated with tactical mastery, so in that category, Carlisle is a welcome change.

I don’t think there’s any way for someone to impugn what Carlisle has done during his tenure as a Mavericks coach, and that’s not the point of what I’m trying to say here. I just hope that he isn’t being rewarded for his past accomplishments and his well-deserved reputation instead of how he fits into the team’s future. I don’t want the fact that he just became the winningest coach in franchise history to pressure the front office into committing beyond reason. The Mavericks can’t fall into a trap and talk themselves into believing that the coach who brought them to their first championship has to stay just because — that coach would really need to be the right one for the job.

Who’s to say that coach is Rick Carlisle? Before his tenure started, the Mavericks had just parted ways with Avery Johnson, who managed to lead the team to a 194-70 record in three-plus seasons at the helm, including a trip to the Finals in 2005-06. Of course, the team was just 23-24 in the playoffs in that same time frame, and that was enough to usher the former point guard out the door after 2007-08. Ironically, Carlisle is also one game under .500 in the playoffs as the coach of the Mavs at 57-58. If the post-Dirk Nowitzki era results in a few truly nasty years, how much will fans love Carlisle then? How much will the front office love him then?

The professional sports world is full of fickle critics, and the man all Mavericks fans seem to regard as a hero at present could develop a reputation somewhat less palatable in the coming years. If Carlisle’s continued presence gets in the way of the Mavs bringing in the kind of talent that leads to the next great prolonged run of success at the cost of a few wins in the present, this development is not good news, no matter how great of a tactician he is. That’s something that needs to be taken into consideration with the news of this extension.

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