The details from the report corroborating the rumor that Rick Carlisle can be an asshole are juicy, for sure. Apparently, he belittled FODs (Friends of Luka Dončić) Dennis Smith Jr. and Salah Mejri, accusing Smith of being jealous of Dončić before trading him; saw former assistant coach Jamahl Mosely’s relationship with Dončić as a threat; and needed multiple liaisons, namely Mosely and J.J. Barea, to manage player chemistry — i.e. Dončić and Kristaps Porziņģis — and deliver messages to the team.
The damning anonymous player pull quote from ESPN’s story was, “It wasn’t really about how Rick treated Luka. Luka hated how Rick treated other people.”
The takeaway, in addition to it sounds awful to play for Carlisle, is maybe the other constant in all of those stories, Dončić, isn’t so easy to coach. Both can be true: Carlisle’s approach can work, but it also can get really fucking annoying, and Dončić’s inability to show up in shape and need to be coddled and sheltered from criticism can make him difficult.
When you combine an arrogant coach with a young, hardheaded superstar, the outcome can look like the stories that have run in the fallout of the front office and coaching turnover in Dallas. Carlisle and Dončić aren’t the only ones who’ve found it difficult to do their jobs for the Mavericks, as gambler-turned-team-executive-turned-gambler-again Haralabos “Bob” Voulgaris compared the organizational dysfunction to “high school drama.”
[Owner Mark Cuban] has never been interested in conventional team-building, which could be why he’s had so much success. Or, it could be that he’s gotten lucky with two transcendent players who can overcome a spotty front office.
Whatever the hell went on while Carlisle, Voulgaris, and now-fired GM Donnie Nelson were there, it can’t continue because, by all accounts, Dončić is a little more difficult than Dirk Nowitzki — even if he may be a better player.
So now that they’re gone and new coach Jason Kidd and new general manager Nico Harrison are in place, what has changed? Through 27 games last year, they were 13-14. After that many games this year, they’re 14-13. Last year, Carlisle defended Dončić’s shape coming into the season, saying the early start caught him off guard. There was no surprise start date this year, and he still came to camp 30 pounds overweight.
The ESPN piece was about how the Carlisle-Dončić relationship devolved, which thank you for the delicious bit about Luka yelling “Who’s in charge — you or Bob?” at Rick during a heated exchange, but there was no cherry on top of the smear sundae because Dallas is underperforming much to the same degree that they were a year ago.
I want to be very specific in how I say this because Dončić is a generational player and criticizing him is like taking issue with Monet’s Garden: The Mavericks don’t have a Dončić problem, they have a problem maximizing Dončić.