The Retribution of Rick Carlisle
Who is Rick Carlisle? For a lot of NBA fans coming into the 2011 NBA playoffs, that was a tough answer. Sure, you knew he had coached a few teams in the past, but he was largely nondescript and unheralded; you knew his name but weren’t sure why, exactly.
Carlisle’s career has been defined by getting passed over, fired from or overlooked for jobs he was arguably qualified for. And then leading the unheralded squads he was relegated to into the playoffs, anyway. In nine years as a coach his teams have been in the playoffs eight times.
Carlisle got his start as head coach for the Detroit Pistons in 2001-02, a team coming off of a 32-50 record that hadn’t won 50 or more games in five seasons. Carlisle took virtually the same roster and inverted their record to 50-32, won the Central Division and led them to a round one series playoff victory before losing to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semis. Carlisle was named NBA Coach of the Year.
The following year the Pistons again went 50-32, again won the Central Division but this time won two playoff series before falling in the Eastern Conference Finals. Even though Carlisle had completely turned the Pistons around as a franchise and reversed a losing culture, he got fired from the Detroit Pistons after the 2003-04 season. The organization couldn’t resist the sex appeal that Larry Brown emanated from the open market, so Carlisle got the boot and was kicked to the curb like a soiled mattress. It was a surprising move considering Carlisle was one of the best young coaches in the league but it paid off for the Pistons immediately as they won a title in Brown’s first year.
It also paid off for Carlisle in at least some regard. He was hired by the Indiana Pacers and took over a team coming off of a 48-34 record. Proving his accomplishments in Detroit were no fluke, he guided them to the NBA’s best record, 61-21, and the most wins in a single season in franchise history in his first year. The Pacers beat the Celtics and Heat in the first two rounds, but in an ironic twist, were then eliminated in the Eastern Conference Finals by his former Pistons squad. How bad do you think he wanted to win that series? Even though the scene was set perfectly for the retribution of Rick Carlisle, he was spurned and had it rubbed in his face again. But Carlisle kept persevering.
The next year he led the Pacers to the playoffs again even though is roster was killed by injuries- nine players started 20 or more games. The Pacers won the first series but were again beaten by Larry Brown’s Pistons in round two; at this point Carlisle had to have developed a drinking problem or some addiction to cope, right? It had to feel at certain points like the sole reason Larry Brown was put on the earth was to constantly upstage him in front of large groups of people.
The following two years in Indiana were his worst as a head coach. The Pacers made the playoffs with a .500 record but were bounced in the first round, then compiled a 35-47 the following season which lead to his resignation. He took a year off and worked as an analyst for ESPN. Then when he got tired of hearing Stuart Scott over use the phrase “Boo-Yahhh” on set, he quickly took a job coaching the Dallas Mavericks.
In three years as a coach of the Mavericks he has increased the franchises win total each year; 50, 55, then 57 wins this season. In years one and two he lost in the Western Conference Semis and in the first round last season, respectively.
But this year the Mavs are back in the Finals and Carlisle has earned the recognition he deserved for getting them this far and for the caliber of coach he is. But he still hasn’t reclaimed what Larry Brown stole from him; an NBA Championship. But if the Mavs win this series, the retribution of Rick Carlisle would be complete.
[image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/keithallison]