Carlisle On Mavs Roles: No Spoonfuls Of Sugar

How would you like Rick Carlisle to deliver the news of his thoughts on his Mavs "needing to know their roles''? Do you want it delivered frankly but with polish, as Rick did at the start of September? Or do you want it delivered as it was to me in a darkened corner of the AAC basement, with little tolerance for anyone who requires a spoonful of sugar to help this medicine go down?

The issue is not a new one in Dallas. The Mavs celebrate their depth. They do so justifiably, if you believe that it is beneficial to be able to plug in Jason Terry as a temp starter, as the Mavs might do in the NBA season opener Wednesday against Charlotte at the AAC. They do so justifiably, too, if we all understand that a week from now that bench might include Jason Terry, Tyson Chandler, Dominique Jones and Shawn Marion.

But understand this. Believe this. There is an attached potential problem.

What if all those people are not fans of coming off the bench?

Here's Carlisle's response to that question in his initial Media Day presser:

"I don't care if guys are happy or unhappy about their minutes,'' Rick said. "When you're talking about winning at the highest level, individual needs for minutes and touches, if that stuff comes into the equation, then you got guys who aren't about the right things. … Anybody who presents themselves with that kind of selfishness isn't deserving of being in a Mavericks' uniform.''

That's strong stuff, and maybe old-schoolers get it. Still, let's take Marion. He's never before been a bench player. If he is uncomfortable with this, does that make him "selfish''? Or Terry, who envisions himself as the NBA's best sixth man – what if Carlisle decides he's no better than Dallas' seventh best man?

Again, Rick responds: "This ain't going to be about role definition. It's going to be about role acceptance. And we'll see the character of our team and the resourcefulness of our team. That's what's going to define us as a special team as opposed to a good team."

Terry and others are saying the right things here. Dirk Nowitzki stated it beautifully.

"You can't have hurt feelings on any good team,'' Dirk said. "We're beyond that. If you want to win a championship, you can't be running around being mad all the time at the coach or the situation. I think we're all in this together.''

But remember Rick's own players accusing him of "rag-dolling'' them in the playoffs? Would it be easier, and better, if it was about "role definition''? Watch how carefully team spokesman Dirk tiptoes around this:

"Some nights, Coach has showed, that his substitution pattern is different, I would say. Some nights you might play a lot of minutes, the next night you might not see the court. That's just Rick. You've got to get used to it."

"Different,'' indeed.

It is Carlisle's belief that his approach forces a "Be Ready'' mindset upon everyone. And it's not like the third-year Dallas coach isn't communicating this view to his guys. In fact, it should be noted that while Carlisle may have an unconventional style in bonding with his players, it has happened. This summer, he traveled to Chicago to hang out with Caron Butler, he traveled to Puerto Rico to help J.J. Barea with his camp and he traveled to Guadeloupe to help Roddy Beaubois with his camp. He's also made offseason trips to New York for Jason Kidd and to Germany for Dirk Nowitzki.

Just the other night, there was a table for two at Ocean Prime in Uptown … and the two guys sitting there socializing made for what I would've considered an odd coupling ... Rick Carlisle and Jason Kidd.

So Carlisle is devoted to the cause … and simply demands that his players follow suit.

Those who figure to be most affected by potential alterations are saying all the right things.

Shawn Marion: "(Not starting) would be tough. But we've got to start really recognizing the situations we have on the floor and taking advantage of that to the fullest. We are such a deep team and we've got so many different weapons on this team, we've just got to use it."

Jason Terry: "There are always enough minutes for guys who are playing well. Just earn the minutes.''

Caron Butler: "It is what it is. Coach is going to make a decision of what's best for the team and we've just got to roll with it, whatever the decision may be. Either way I look forward to performing at a high level."

And again, Carlisle: "Our approach is going to be ‘strength-in-numbers.''

That is nice and polite and the Mavs could make a t-shirt out of it.

But the press conferences are over. The season is starting. There is that dark corner. And there we are, just the two of us.

"Rick,'' I say, "is your ‘role acceptance' concept a product of this team's depth and particular talents? Or is it a product of your general style and beliefs? What if the players tell you they'd prefer to have ‘role definition' and …''

And here's where Rick Carlisle puts you … well, me … in my place. He's already announced it. Frankly but with polish. Now I have the audacity to want him to say it again, with the microphones and the lights turned off?

Fine. He'll make his point another way.

"Sure,'' he says, and even in the dim lighting I can see Rick's mouth twisting in that cow-that-ate-the-cabbage way of his. "Let's have specific definitions. Let's leave no questions. We'll determine all the roles. We'll print them out and we'll laminate them and we'll hang them all in everybody's locker. OK? I'm serious! Let's do that!''

In regard to Rick's thoughts on Mavs players "needing to know their roles'' and such, I take that as a sarcastic "no.''

203pm oct 26 2010

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