Tim MacMahon of ESPN recently posted an article examining the lifeless body of the Rick Carlisle, Luka Doncic relationship. The Dallas Mavericks players were not fans of Carlisle by the end of his tenure. This is not news. However, the issues between Carlisle and Doncic do not appear to be because of any actions directed at Doncic.
Carlisle was very careful to treat his superstar well. Carlisle’s basketball brain led him to see how special Doncic is. Unfortunately for Coach Carlisle, Doncic saw the way Carlisle treated everyone else and it clearly upset him.
I wrote an article detailing how eager the players were to tell you that Carlisle being gone has made them happier two months ago. Two months later and they are being joined by former Mavericks players and unnamed sources in expressing their disdain for Carlisle. Former Mavericks Dennis Smith Jr. and Salah Mejri were two of the subjects of this article.
This article about my time there is spot on. And that’s coming from staff members n players! Y’all don’t even know the half. https://t.co/9gh2DI4xPu— Dennis Smith Jr. (@Dennis1SmithJr) December 15, 2021
Smith tweeted his affirmation of the details in the article. Smith and Doncic may have always been headed for their own divorce given the amount that each needs the ball; however, Carlisle appears to have sped this along by interjecting his own dysfunction.
All of this is just sad. Carlisle is the most successful coach in Mavericks history. He coached the 2011 Mavericks to the only title the team has ever won and he did so with a roster of one superstar surrounded by extremely competent role players who could both shoot and defend. The Doncic era Mavericks appear to be attempting the same thing to much less success.
Carlisle’s basketball genius is unquestioned. ESPN’s Zach Lowe has called him a “warlock” for years. Doncic is also a basketball genius. In a perfect world they would have been able to blend their basketball genius together to make beautiful string music. That they were unable to make it work because of Carlisle’s inability to treat other members of the franchise with respect and Doncic’ own possible maturity issues is a sports tragedy. That other members of the brain trust were unable to see this brewing and cut it off, is also a failure.
The Mavericks chose to go in a completely different direction with the Jason Kidd hire. Despite Kidd’s own history of player relationship issues, Kidd was hired to bring in better “vibes.” The players have clearly been happier or at least less sad/angry with Kidd as the coach. He has formed a leadership council which bears a striking resemblance to the Diamond Dogs of Apple TV’s Ted Lasso.
These decisions have given the players a greater sense of ownership of the team and its results. Sadly, those results have been middling at best. But the players being happier does matter. Doncic will get in better shape and more jumpers will fall. Many of the maddening segments of the offense have already been ironed out. There is more of an issue with the current offense than “jumpers just not falling” but Doncic will figure that stuff out. He always has. Kidd is still not the tactician that Carlisle was.
There have always been different rules and relationships with coaches for superstars. NFL Hall of Fame coach Jimmy Johnson famously answered a question about if he would treat Troy Aikman the same way as a third string lineman. “Absolutely not. If I found a third-string lineman sleeping in a team meeting I would cut him immediately. If I found Troy Aikman sleeping in a meeting, I would gently wake him and ask him if I could bring him a cup of coffee.” Carlisle was smart enough to realize that Doncic was a superstar and treated him accordingly. Unfortunately, he was not smart enough to realize how much Doncic cared how Carlisle treated everyone else.