Rick Vs. Kaman: The Root Of Mavs 'Head Games'
On the surface, Chris Kaman's complaints about Dallas Mavericks Rick Carlisle and their dealings together in Dallas in the 2012-13 season come down to two things: minutes and communication. And if it was just that? That's not necessarily a bad thing.
Tuesday's game against the Lakers marked Chris Kaman's return to Dallas after a one-year stint with the Mavericks last season. Kaman was by most accounts a good teammate in his time as a Maverick. And at times, he was a productive player. However, in the second half of the season Kaman saw less and less playing time. And Tuesday morning he was not shy to express his opinion of Carlisle.
"It's a different coaching style," Kaman said. "Coach Carlisle is uptight and kind of plays games with people here and there. Coach D'Antoni is more relaxed. He lets guys get a feel and make mistakes and play.''
These aren't exactly malicious comments. Words like "uptight" can be blown out of proportion. (And Rick can be "uptight.'') Kaman has every right to prefer the coaching style of his current coach over the style of his former coach. But Kaman went on to elaborate on what exactly he did not like about Carlisle.
"I have a hard time with coaches who say one thing in one ear and then behind your back they're saying something else," Kaman said. "There was a lot that was said to me that was just misrepresentations and stories that went one way and the next day it would be completely opposite. So that's why I say he plays games with guys. He's not going to play games with Dirk or play games with Vince. But other guys he doesn't know well or are new, he plays games and I didn't get it. I had so many conversations with him and I got tired of the conversations."
Kaman's concerns come down to two separate issues: his lack of playing time as a Maverick, and the way Carlisle handles his players.
The issue of playing time is pretty simple. There was a point mid- to late-season last year when Kaman was playing very few minutes per game. In March he averaged just 15 minutes and that number went down to 12.6 in April, including a few nights when he was never even inserted into the game.
Why? And does it relate to the sharp "behind-your-back'' allegation?
What we've been told: Kaman got cross-ways with the coach because the player -- long an offensive force but a defensive liability -- thought his customary shot selection was understood as an asset here. ... and he feels Carlisle stated that.
And yet the fact that once the ball went inside to Kaman it never came back out was something Carlisle attempted to coach Kaman out of.
In short, Carlisle was saying he liked the player Kaman was ... but was also trying to mold him into something the player didn't want to be.
Is this "back-stabbing''? It is to Kaman, and once he felt that way -- at some point during last season -- the effort probably slipped. And then the minutes slipped even more.
And then the relationship slipped even more.
Different people define Carlisle's coaching style in different ways. Carlisle expects his players to trust him even when it might be hard to do so. He's also not afraid to chastise his players publicly if he doesn't feel they are performing with the effort or understanding that they should be.
Carlisle coaches with an "I-know-best-I'll-get-the-best-out-of-you'' mentality. And if you don't buck that? He will get the best out of you. Ask everybody from Chauncey Billups to Jason Kidd to O.J. Mayo to Shawn Marion, who once bristled at being "rag-dolled'' in and out of the lineup with Caron Butler ... but who stuck with the Carlisle program and will forever be remembered as a foundation piece of a champion.
Hey, maybe we are already seeing Carlisle have the same positive effects on the career of Monta Ellis, who was shocked that his new coach immediately flew out to Houston to work with Ellis for two days immediately after Ellis signed with the Mavericks.
But Kaman's words echo what Marion once said. What Brandan Wright quietly still says. What Brendan Haywood once mumbled. What Roddy B must be saying right now, wherever he is. To paraphrase: "Coach jerks us around.''
This is definitely Rick Carlisle's gym. He sets the clock. He sets the tone. This year, he's even in charge of all the coaching interviews; formally, the Mavs have a new policy that prohibits assistant coaches from being interviewed.
The attention to detail is such that throughout the win over LA, Carlisle monitored minutes, keeping Monta to 31 and everyone else under 28 in preparation for what figures to be a strenuous second-night-of-a-back-to-back in OKC on Wednesday.
Micro-managing? Controlling? Odd?
Absolutely. Absolutely. And to guys in their 20's who work for a man who is fascinated by Ping-Pong, psychology, classical piano and other esoteric endeavors ... yeah. Odd. Absolutely.
But the goal isn't oddity for oddity's sake, or manipulation for manipulation's sake. The goal is winning games.
For his part, before the game, Carlisle took a PC angle on Kaman's comments.
"It didn't work out here with Chris,'' Rick said. "And I take my share of the responsibility for it."
But after the game, the coach made a rare appearance in the locker room to essentially whisper an aside.
"I thought Kaman played great tonight," Carlisle said. "And I was shocked he didn't play more minutes. It should be noted for the record that he played 17 minutes tonight and he averaged 20 here (with Dallas)."
Micro-managing? Controlling? Odd? Yes, but also true.
In Kaman's first four games coming into Wednesday's game he played 20, 18, 13, and 16 minutes, respectively. So he's destined for more minutes than he got in Dallas?
In his first four games as a Maverick, Kaman played 20, 24, 33 and 28 minutes.
Is Kaman going to end up reacting differently to D'Antoni than he did to Carlisle?
On Sunday, after those 13- and 16-minute games, Chris told the LA media, "It's not easy, but I want to be patient with Coach (D'Antoni) because he's a good guy and he's been straight with me. ... I want to be patient, but it is frustrating when you play 13, 12, 18 [minutes]. I want it to be consistent.''
"At the same time,'' Chris concluded, "I'm willing to be patient and trust Coach to figure it out and we'll see how it goes.''
Kaman is willing to be patient with his boss? See, in Dallas, the dynamic is ... well, the reverse of that.
None of this makes Chris Kaman a bad guy. None of it makes him wrong in his evaluation, either. It just makes him wrong in his reaction to his evaluation.
Rick Carlisle does play games with his players. And if his players play along, they get to win games.
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