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Shepherding Greatness: Rick Carlisle in 2010-11

An assembly of veteran talent needed a brilliant coach to guide them to the championship.

Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE


What was the most amazing part to of the 2010-2011 season? Jason Terry getting a trophy tattoo before the season was nuts, upon reflection (or, not even upon reflection, really). Dirk Nowitzki going bananas was fun, but not unexpected. Tyson Chandler forcing the team to forge a defensive identity was what the Mavericks hoped when they brought him to Dallas on the last year of his deal.

But looking back, Rick Carlisle's masterful coaching performance remains the most amazing and underrated part of the Dallas Mavericks' championship run.

Heading into training camp in 2010-11, Rick Carlisle had two starting-caliber centers in Chandler and Haywood, and two starting-caliber small forwards in Shawn Marion and Caron Butler. In February 2010, the Mavericks traded for Brendan Haywood, Caron Butler, and DeShawn Stevenson. On July 9, 2010, Donnie Nelson re-signed Haywood to a six-year deal, with the understanding that Haywood would be the starter. Four days later, the Mavericks acquired Tyson Chandler from Charlotte. Tyson had not had a good season the year prior, battling injuries in Charlotte.

A number of veterans can mean a great deal of ego in a locker room, yet Carlisle managed a buy-in from two players who very much wanted the role of starter before the season even began. Haywood had the potential to become a big problem, as the starting position was a major selling point for him during the free agency pitch. Somehow, both Marion and Haywood agreed to come off the bench, with Marion in a utilitarian role of a Maverick Swiss army knife and Haywood as the primary back-up to Chandler. Egos can be a big problem, but Carlisle was smart enough to get everyone to buy into the system and still get them enough minutes.

How Carlisle managed the less talented members of his rotation in the championship season, though, remains impressive.

The shooting guard position remained in flux for most of the year, with seemingly everyone getting a chance. Jason Terry started a few games. DeShawn Stevenson received numerous chances. Do you remember Roddy Beaubois starting nearly 30 games? Prior to the Mavericks shutting him down for the playoffs, Roddy B had nearly half the season to prove his worth with a veteran supporting cast.

The season-ending injury to Caron Butler forced Dallas into an awkward mid-season position: Shawn Marion was fully capable of assuming minutes, but his range could limit aspects of the Dallas offense. Sasha Pavlovic received some burn before Dallas signing the bought-out Peja Stojacovic. The mid-season lapse during the Dirk and Butler injuries pushed Dallas out of contender status in the minds of many NBA analysts, but Carlisle managed to keep the trains moving. He opted for a whopping 22 different starting lineups during 82 regular season games.

All coaches have to juggle rotations and deal with injuries, but when we consider how well Carlisle adapted and how he used his other bench options, it becomes clear that he should have received more than two third place "Coach of the Year" votes. The undrafted and undersized J.J. Barea became a massive spark plug off the bench after starting the season horribly, shooting in the mid 30s (including 12% from beyond the arc for one early stretch). Carlisle's insertion of Barea into the starting line up in game four of the Finals changed the course of the series. Corey Brewer ignited the run against the Lakers in the playoffs which led directly to the sweep. Brian Cardinal stepped of the bench to bury big shots despite going weeks without play. Ian Mahinmi stuck the dagger in the Heat during game six of the Finals.

Barea and Mahinmi were so impactful for the Mavericks that they secured large contracts from other teams in the following offseasons. The masterful use of every option at Carlisle's disposal grows more impressive the further removed we are from the title.

If I'm honest, I didn't appreciate what Carlisle did at the time. Heck I didn't even appreciate him until recently. I was pretty thrilled with his hire after Avery Johnson micromanaged the Mavericks right out of the playoffs in 2007, but I didn't understand just how adaptable Carlisle is. He got us to the playoffs a few times and then we up and won the whole thing in 2011. I didn't really appreciate his brilliance during the "Lamar Odom Season of Sadness" in 2011-2012 or even during the "Darren Collison Must Be Stopped" season in 2012-2013. This past season, his work with a talented but defensively lacking squad was brilliant. It forced me to re-examine his time as the Maverick head coach and I've come away in awe.

Most championships are remembered through the lens of a dominant performer, but the 2010-11 title run was such a dominant TEAM performance that it may well get lost in the shuffle of the pre- and post-LeBron eras. As a result, it's more than possible that what Carlisle and his staff were able to do gets hidden by history.

Without his work, both on and off the floor, as a tactician and councilor, the Mavericks' championship would not have been possible.