Rick Carlisle has had a rough journey, no doubt. In Detroit, he went from being the Coach of the Year to being fired the next, despite winning 50 games both seasons and getting all the way to the Conference Finals. In Indiana, he was forced to work through the Ron Artest debacle (also losing his best player, O'Neal, for much of the season), among other adversities, yet still managed to go to the playoffs that year. In fact, his final season in Indiana was the only season one of the team's he head-coached for missed the postseason.
Through all of this, he remained pretty much the same sort of coach. Carlisle was a great at the x's and o's part of the game and had a good balance between being a hardass and a softie. However, he often overused his veterans and undervalued his rookies, and was not the best in game manager out there.
The last two year of coaching the Mavericks saw Carlisle stick with his typical methods. The obvious complaint among Maverick fans was using Rodrigue Beaubois sparingly, despite excellent play in the minutes he got. When it comes to veterans, I remember a well past his prime Devean George starting games at the 2 for the Mavericks in 08-09. We have seen Carlisle come up with innovative and useful strategies, such as a 2-3 zone, which proved very effective in certain games, but when the other team finally figured it out and started abusing it, Carlisle was slow to revert back to man-to-man.
However, from the few games that have been played this season, I have not seen the same coach that would bench rookies for months or stick with his 2-3 zone that has been scored upon five straight trips down the floor. Though it has only been three games, several specific examples have lead me to believe that this might not be the same, stubborn guy coaching this year.
The first thing which, quite frankly, shocked me, occurred before the opening tip off had even started. Tyson Chandler starting for Brenden Haywood? It made sense to me, because Chandler certainly has the potential to fit better playing with Kidd, but I never expected Carlisle to do it. Haywood had just been signed to a nice deal this offseason, and the knock on him was his attitude problems. Surely Carlisle would not piss off one of his veterans, even if another player made a little more sense?
Well, he did, and while Chandler probably won't start 82 games, starting him opening day due to a poor preseason was very much a surprising move.
A second issue is Carlisle's in-game management. As Mike Fisher points out in his daily donuts, Dirk started off the game guarding Blake Griffin. After struggling to defend him on his first two trips, Carlisle quickly made the switch so that Chandler was on the young redshirted rookie, and after that switch was made, Griffin went 3/13 overall.
Now, before people start screaming out other examples, let me admit Carlisle still has some issues in this department, especially involving that backup point guard of his. However, as they always say (or more likely I just made this up), one step in the right direction is better than zero.
Finally, Carlisle's willingness to give Dominique Jones meaningful in-game minutes has surprised me. His first couple of games were not all that impressive, making some rookie mistakes and looking uncomfortable. Knowing Carlisle's past with rookies, it would not have been a complete surprise if Jones didn't play at all, or only got a complementary four minute stint in the 2nd. Instead, his minutes actually increased, and Jones played quite well, making some nice passes that led to points (2 assists, no turnovers), while looking comfortable.
To know for a fact that Carlisle has changed in this category, we will need to see it over more games than just three, but from the sounds of his interviews and his usage of Jones up to this (very limited) point, I think its quite likely we'll be seeing a lot of this young man this year (and that's good, because the field goals will come, don't worry).
While it may be another month until we know for sure that Carlisle is really a different coach, the signs right now seem to indicate that Carlisle has matured some, and is ready to be more open to different methods. Coaches can change...they really can. It is going to be very interested to see whether Carlisle has.