Rick Carlisle Returns To Indiana Pacers As New Head Coach

NBA 2020-21

Rick Carlisle certainly did not sit on the free agent market for very long, did he.

The Indiana Pacers have agreed to a four-year deal—which ESPN sources say is worth $29 million in addition to incentives—with Rick Carlisle to become their new head coach, the NBA sideline veteran told ESPN’s Tim McMahon last Thursday.

Carlisle comes into this situation with the Pacers after having spent the last 13 years as the head coach of the Dallas Mavericks, a period during which Indiana had four different bench bosses. 

A couple of weeks after Dallas’ exit from the playoffs at the hands of the Los Angeles Clippers—who remain in the fray (though just barely) as +200 NBA odds underdogs in Game 5 of their Conference Final matchup with the Phoenix Suns, who are a solid NBA pick as they look to punch their ticket to the Finals—Carlisle left nearly in tandem with Donnie Nelson, Dallas’ longtime top executive in the front office. 

Carlisle ensured that it was his decision, or at least a mutual one, to part ways.

“You never want to get to a point where you ever feel like you’re overstaying your welcome, and I just felt like this is the right time,” Carlisle said. “I just have such great respect for [Mavs owner Mark Cuban] and everyone there, and I’m fortunate to move on to another great opportunity.”

Considering the pieces that currently make up the Pacers’ roster as well as Carlisle’s previous history with the team, it could certainly be a very fruitful marriage between team and coach. It is generally believed that Carlisle didn’t mesh well with Dallas’ young phenom, Luka Doncic, and that this rift contributed to him resigning from his post, though that didn’t stop Carlisle from speaking glowingly of the young Slovenian star.

“I just sent [Doncic] a message thanking him for three amazing years,” Carlisle said last Thursday. “I learned many things from him, and I told him that I’m glad I’m only going to see him twice a year. I mean it in the most complimentary way, of course.

“I think he’s the best young player in the world. I think these three years set up as a major springboard for the next 10 for him. I expect him to be an NBA champion. I expect him to be a multiple MVP winner. I just have an amazing level of respect for his abilities and his grasp of the game. He’s truly a once-in-the-generation type player.”

That type of friction is unlikely to occur in Indiana, however, as the team is filled with veterans that have proven they are willing to make sacrifices to find success. Postman Domantas Sabonis, shot-swatter extraordinaire Myles Turner, cagey guard Malcolm Brogdon, and the supremely talented Caris LeVert are just a few of the established stars that Carlisle will have to work with in Indiana.

The Pacers are currently on a prolonged stretch of profound mediocrity. Before this season’s loss in the final play-in game, Indiana had been eliminated in the first round in five straight years, three of which were four-game sweeps. The last time they won a playoff series was during the Paul George-Frank Vogel era back in 2014, when they went to back-to-back Conference Finals, losing both times to the Miami Heat and their Big Three.

Before that, the last time Indiana had any success was under none other than Carlisle. He was one of Larry Bird’s top assistants with the Pacers from 1997-2000, after which he earned the top job for the Detroit Pistons in 2001. After two successful seasons, Carlisle was pushed out of Detroit and Bird, now in the front office in Indiana, welcomed Carlisle back as his head coach.

In his first season in charge, the 61-year-old led the Pacers to the Conference Finals, where they lost in seven games to his old team, the Pistons, who would go on to win the NBA title just a year after pushing Carlisle out the door. The results got worse and worse for Carlisle and Indiana over the next three years, however, and he was let go in 2007. A year later, the Ogdensburg, New York native embarked on his journey with the Mavs. 

Now, Carlisle is back in Indiana, and with the weapons he’s got, no doubt he’ll be looking to finish what he started back in 2003. Carlisle managed a locker room full of big personalities in his first stint, so he should be able to avoid the issues his predecessor, Nate Bjorkgren (who lasted just one season), had with some of the core players. Key Injuries were also a big factor in the Pacers falling short of expectations this past season.

“It’s an exciting situation because there’s upside here,” Carlisle said. “Getting back healthy is going to be a big part of that. [Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard] and I have talked extensively about the roster. I like their roster. It’s a team of skilled, unselfish guys that play hard. It’s always possible that moves could be made before the season, but I think Kevin and I are both very excited about getting the roster healthy and seeing what this team can be.”

“[Carlisle is] a proven winner with a championship and will be a Hall of Fame coach,” Pritchard said. “He has demonstrated throughout his career an ability to build something with sustainable success. He has great respect for our franchise and our fans from his previous times here. We are very happy to welcome him back to Indiana.”

Carlisle leaves the big D as the Mavericks winningest coach, having posted a 555-478 record while in the job, including the team’s first and only NBA Title in 2011. That championship team was led by Dirk Nowitzki, who will now work as a special advisor to Mavs owner Mark Cuban as they figure out how to replace their president of basketball operations and head coach in a single offseason.

While Cuban has said that he will look to fill the front office job before the sideline gig, sources have told ESPN that Dallas is already pretty close to getting their man for the head coaching job: former Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach Jason Kidd, which is not surprising when you see the endorsement he got from Carlisle.

“My hope is that Jason Kidd will be the next coach of the Mavs because he and Luka have so many things in common as players,” Carlisle said. “I just think that it would be a great situation for Luka, and I think it would be an amazing situation for Jason. I’m the only person on the planet that’s coached both of those guys and that knows about all of their special qualities as basketball players. To me, that just would be a great marriage, but that’s just an opinion.”

Cuban has not wasted any time in the search for his top executive either, however, as he is circling around Nike executive Nico Harrison for the positions, sources told ESPN. Michael Finley, a team legend and current vice president of basketball operations, is expected to stay on and work with Harrison to build the team they want around Doncic, per ESPN’s sources.

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Alex is an alumnus of Ryerson University's RTA Sport Media program, a contributing NHL, NBA, and MLB writer in the BetPicks.ca team. He has been writing on sports, betting, and fantasy contests for several years, including pitstops as an NFL Editor for theScore and as one of the lead NBA news writers for fantasy sports site FantasyPros. As a lifelong athlete, bettor, and sports fan, Alex is uniquely qualified to help you reach the sports betting success that you've always dreamed of and your wife never believed you could achieve. Follow Alex on Twitter

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