The Best Mavs' Pep Talker? 8-Year-Old Abby

Nellie used to say an NBA coach could only throw a team-motivating tantrum six times a year. Similarily, Rick Carlisle knows there are only so many times you can push so many buttons. So where to go for motivation? Tony Robbins? Oprah? Maybe Rick seeks solace in the advice of his 8-year-old daughter.

The recent season-ending exit interviews for Dallas Mavericks players weren't just about meeting with the media (as much as some of us would like to think it's all about us). "Exit interviews'' also mean wrap-up-the-season visits between players and coaches.

It was in such a meeting last week, for instance, that O.J. Mayo was informed by coach Rick Carlisle that even as he opts to explore free agency, the Dallas organization would like him to return to the club.

It's a time of evaluation and it's a time of reflection. Carlisle found the time to tell a story meant to buoy the spirits of anyone drowning in the realities of 41-41.

"I think (perspective) is just so important in coaching,'' he said, "because it's so intense and it's so emotional. And when you get a team with challenges like we had this year, sometimes there are things that happen along the way that put things in perspective.''

And then Rick took us back to early January. He did not specify which game, though the hints take us to Saturday, January 5, at home against the lowly Hornets ... and a 99-96 "rock-bottom'' loss.

"Back in early January we had a very, very difficult loss at home and it really upset me,'' he said. "So I went home that night and my daughter (Abby), who is 8 years old, knew that this was really upsetting to me."

I should note here: Rick and wife Donna share an understanding of psychology. (You might recall me detailing Carlisle's walk-on-fire friendships with Tony Robbins and Oprah Winfrey.) So maybe it shouldn't be a surprise that their little girl can get inside your head, too.

"So there's a (guest bedroom) downstairs in our house where I keep all my suits so I don't have to schlep them up and down the stairs,'' Rick said. "So I went in there and I took my stuff with me to kind of empty my suit out in the closet.

And even though it is very late, Abby follows her daddy into the room. She closes the door behind her, takes a seat on the bed, and takes note of her father's mood.

"Hey, Abby, what's up?'' Dad asked.

And Abby replies, "Dad, you know in life there's always going to be bumps along the road.''

What did Carlisle take away from that night?

"At that moment it was clear to me that my focus had to shift to doing everything possible to engage our staff to figure out exactly what the strengths and weaknesses of our players were, and to move forward and find a way to make every day a little bit better if we could,'' he said.

Well yeah, that. But also that he's the father of an insightful and precocious little girl.

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