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Appreciating the stability Rick Carlisle brings to the Dallas Mavericks

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Long-tenured coach Carlisle brings the Mavericks some measure of stability in an increasing environment of coaching (and player) turnover.

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There's been some heated back and forth recently over just how much room Mark Cuban has to talk when he accuses Daryl Morey and the Rockets of having a chemistry problem. Dallas has seen a lot of players come and go in the years since they won a title, leading some to conclude that the Mavericks have some chemistry problems of their own. But some of us have argued that Dallas has been able to shuffle players around a very stable core and that that bodes well for the franchise's future. One of the pillars of that stability is head coach Rick Carlisle. Carlisle is well-known and loved by Mavericks fans and certainly not in need of a lengthy preview, but it's worth taking a look at just how valuable his continued presence is to the team.

Carlisle has been the head coach of the Mavericks since 2008, joining owner Mark Cuban, who bought the team in 2000, and Dirk Nowitzki, who was drafted in 1998. The ability to maintain this sort of continuity in management, coaching, and player personnel is increasingly rare in the NBA, in part because the 2011 collective bargaining agreement reduced the number of years players sign contracts for, increasing the amount of churn around the league. But coaches experience even less stability. The CBA reduced most of the longest player contracts from five years to four (though players routinely sign even shorter contracts), but according to Tom Ziller's look at coaching turnover, the average tenure of an NBA head coach is only 2.4 seasons. If you exclude extreme outlier Gregg Popovich, who's starting his 18th season in San Antonio, it drops to 1.9 seasons.

nba coach survival rate

It's in this environment that Rick Carlisle has become one of the grizzled old men of the NBA at only 54. He is the third-longest tenured coach in the NBA and one of only four current coaches to win an NBA championship (he's one of only three to win with their current team).

So this combination of stability and experience is rare in the NBA. But is it important? Like many aspects of sports, it's hard to say definitively, and where you stand in this argument probably depends at least in part on the current status of your favorite team. But there's pretty good anecdotal evidence from the last 15 years and at least some more rigorous work that suggests it could be important. On the more analytic side, here's a link to a 2012 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference research paper in which the author finds coach postseason experience may contribute to winning in the playoffs and that "teammate experience" (players who've played together before) increases the odds of a team's postseason success.

On the less data driven side, it certainly seems important. The last 15 years of NBA playoffs have been dominated by multiple victories from Phil Jackson and his Lakers, Popovich and the Spurs, and Erik Spoelstra with the Heat, all teams anchored by a long-term (at least by NBA standards) coach and core players. Looking at one-off titles from the Pistons, Celtics, and Mavericks, the same can be said of two of the three, with the Pistons as the only exception. And at least two of those coaches have said that they believe the constant coaching turnover is bad for teams.

So in addition to being grateful for Rick Carlisle's tactical expertise and his willingness to adapt new leadership techniques as he brings in new players, Mavericks fans can start this season feeling pretty confident that the continuity he brings to the table will give the team as much of a coaching edge as you can get in today's NBA.

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