With Rick Carlisle closing in on a new five-year extension that will keep him steering the Mavs ship for the foreseeable future, and with the Mavs season about to launch with a opening visit tonight to Phoenix (9 p.m. DFW time on FSSW and 103.3 FM) we here at DallasBasketball.com thought it would be a good time to count down the top five coaches in the history of the Mavs franchise.
There are so many storylines as this season begins. Fish has those handled here in his "Mavs Season Preview: The Roster, The Salaries, The Hope.'' And there are also the specifics to tonight's game, an on-going project that lasts all day and into the night in the discussions on DB.com Boards.
But with all the questions ... and all the doubts ... and all the unknown ... including the question "How 'Not Bad' Can This Year's Mavs Be?' ... Mark Cuban's intention to keep Carlisle in place, and Rick's desire for the same, is pivotal. Pivotal because right now because Dallas needs some level of stabiliity. And pivotal for all-time because ... Rick Carlisle is the all-time best coach in Dallas history.
A top-five list, and ... Please keep in mind: our list takes into account more than just overall record, but also playoff record, and milestone accomplishments. It is also important to remember that this is just our subjective opinion, so please feel free to give us your opinion on the list down below in the comments.
5. John MacLeod (1987-1989)
After starting his career coaching college ball at Oklahoma, John Macleod was hired to be the head coach of the Phoenix Suns, where he stayed for 14 seasons before replacing Dick Motta in 1987.
As the winningest coach in Suns history, Macleod took Phoenix to the playoffs nine times (including eight straight) and even reached the finals in 1978, where his team would fall to the Celtics in six games. Many considered that series to be one of the exciting in NBA history.
Initially, Macleod had immediate success in Dallas, taking the Mavs to their first ever western conference finals appearance. Dallas would fall to the eventual champion “Showtime” Lakers in seven games. However, after struggling the following season, and getting off to a rough start in the 1989 season, Macleod was abruptly fired after late morning practice. The firing of Macleod would bring about the dark ages in Mavs history, from which they would not recover until Don Nelson arrived in 1997.
4. Dick Motta (1980-1987, 94-96)
As the longest-tenured coach in Mavs history, Dick Motta coached 574 games in Dallas. Dick started his Dallas career in the Mavs inaugural season in 1980, where he was the first coach to helm the Mavs franchise. After winning a championship in 1978, and reaching the finals again in 1979 with the Washington Bullets, Motta was thought to be one of the best minds that the NBA had to offer.
Motta had some modest success in Dallas, coaching the team to a 55-27 record, and a division title in the 1986-1987 season. For the most part however, Motta’s stint in Dallas was middling to say the least posting a .465 winning percentage, and an 11-17-playoff record (.393 winning percentage). Motta also never advanced further the second round of the playoffs, including a disappointing exit in the 1987 playoffs at the hands of the seventh seeded Seattle SuperSonics.
Following the loss to Seattle, Motta resigned as Mavs head coach, only to accept the job in Sacramento in 1989. Motta would return to Dallas in from 1994-1996, but would struggle in his second tenure.
3. Avery Johnson (2005-2008)
Following his exit from Dallas in 2005, Mavs GM Don Nelson named Avery Johnson to succeed him as head coach. Johnson had immediate success as the Mavs front man, coaching the team to back-to-back 60 win seasons (including the best record in franchise history), and reaching the NBA Finals in his first full season as head coach.
Johnson’s stats as the Mavs head coach were very impressive, finishing with a record of 194-70 (.735 win percentage), a 23-24 playoff record, and even winning NBA Coach of the Year in the 2005-2006 season.
Johnson, while successful in the regular season, struggled to get the Mavs to take the next step, even losing a 2-0 series lead in the NBA Finals to Dwayne Wade and the Miami Heat. The following season, after leading the Mavs to 67 wins, a division title, and the best record in franchise history (sixth best in NBA history), Johnson and the Mavs would become just the third one-seed in NBA history to drop a first-round series to an eight-seed.
Following another first round exit in 2008, Johnson and the Mavs parted ways, which would usher in the Rick Carlisle era in Dallas.
2. Don Nelson (1997-2005)
Considered one of the top 10 coaches in NBA history, Don Nelson began his NBA coaching career in 1976 with the Milwaukee Bucks, and would continue coaching until 2010 in Golden State.
Nelson led the Mavs to a 339-251 regular season record (.575 win percentage), and is, for now, the winningest coach in Mavs history. He also helped the Mavs to the conference finals in the 2002-2003 season, where they were bounced by the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs. But perhaps the most notable achievement in Don Nelsons career in Dallas, besides inventing “Hack-A-Shaq”, was bringing a certain Big German to the Mavs organization.
In 1998, Nelson worked out a trade with the Bucks to acquire Dirk Nowitzki in exchange for Robert ‘Tractor’ Traylor, bringing Dallas the Man who would eventually lead the franchise to it’s first title. Nelson also acquired the likes of Steve Nash, who, along with Nowitzki, help begin a new era of basketball in Dallas.
Though Nellie and Cuban did not exactly end on the best of terms (Cuban accused Nelson of using insider information against the Mavs in 2007), Nelson is still credited with helping to bring the Mavs out of the NBA cellar, and set them on a path that would bring the Mavs their first NBA title.
1. Rick Carlisle (2008-Present)
Rick Carlisle began his NBA head-coaching career in 2001 with the Detroit Pistons, and had immediate success, posting back-to-back 50-win seasons, winning two division titles, and making it to the conference finals in 2003. However due to friction with ownership, Carlisle was let go by the Pistons.
After landing in Indiana and coaching for his old teammate, Larry Bird, Carlisle would go on to make another conference finals appearance where he would lose to the eventual champion Detroit Pistons. Carlisle would leave Indiana in 2007, and after a brief stint as an ESPN analyst, decided it was time to coach once again.
Carlisle took over as the Mavs head coach after Avery Johnson’s exit in 2008, and frankly, the rest is history.
Becoming the first coach in Mavs history to capture an NBA title, Rick Carlisle earned his place a top the Mavs coaching Ranks in 2011 after defeating the heralded Miami Heat in six games. To this day, Carlisle has posted a record of 338-220, and is the only Mavs coach (outside of John Macleod) to have a winning playoff record. Carlisle is also just two regular season wins away from surpassing Don Nelson for the most wins in franchise history.
But it is not just the wins and NBA title that sets Carlisle apart from the pack. It’s his remarkable consistency.
Widely recognized as one of the best coaches in the NBA, Carlisle has made a living in Dallas turning mediocre teams in to playoff teams and contenders, while dealing with massive roster turnover. Carlisle has consistently done more, with less, than any other coach in the NBA.
Considering everything he has brought to the Mavericks franchise, it should be no surprise that Rick Carlisle tops our list at No. 1. ... and a No. 1 reason to have some faith in what the Mavs might do tonight in Phoenix ... and beyond.