Commentary

Mavs will extend Rick Carlisle, right?

Waiting game between Mark Cuban and his title-winning coach is perplexing

Updated: May 9, 2012, 2:03 PM ET
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com

DALLAS -- Remember the crazed inmate in "Escape from Alcatraz" who chopped off a finger in the workshop? He could lop off another and still count on that hand the current NBA head coaches with a championship ring -- or rings in one case -- appreciating in safety deposit boxes.

Rick Carlisle
Kevin Jairaj/US PresswireRick Carlisle is one of three current NBA coaches with a championship ring, so what's holding up his extension?

There are three.

Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers... and Rick Carlisle.

Among 30.

NBA teams simply don't let go of proven head coaches, especially not a year removed from molding a group of title-less veterans into unexpected champs. So why Carlisle is now Day 4 into the offseason without a deal in place to coach the Dallas Mavericks next season and beyond is perplexing, if not entirely nonsensical.

If this is Mark Cuban's stubbornness to stick to his business model of postseason, end-of-contract evaluation, well, that's fine, it's his team. But the season is over.

Cuban might have felt his hand was forced six years ago in showering big dough on the Little General when he signed off on a five-year extension following the 2006 Finals flop, a bizarre meltdown of a series for team, owner and former coach Avery Johnson alike.

The circumstances surrounding Johnson's extension were far different. Johnson was coming off his first full season as an NBA head coach and still had three years left on his deal. Carlisle entered his 10th season as a head coach with the '11 title -- the franchise's first -- in his hip pocket and one year left on his deal.

A slam-dunk extension, right? Obviously not.

So, why not? If all is as peaceful as Donnie Nelson continued to suggest Sunday and a new contract is merely the right time and right place away, then any day now ...

As odd as this waiting game is, it might not feel quite so uneasy if not for the strangeness with which Carlisle and Cuban have both dealt with the topic, offering only brief and dismissive responses to contract questions, making it feel as though each is actually digging in his heels, with Nelson left as the intermediary.

I have been assured that no rift exists between owner and coach. Carlisle is out of town the rest of the week, and in a brief phone conversation Tuesday he again saw fit only to reply to contract inquiries by standing by his past non-statements: "I'm not going to get into my situation."

[+] EnlargeLaMarcus Aldridge
Mike Nelson/US PresswireCould Portland try to swoop in and nab Rick Carlisle as Nate McMillan's successor? LaMarcus Aldridge would provide a nice piece to build from.

Throughout his four years in Dallas, Carlisle has never passed on an opportunity to praise his boss. He backed Cuban's dismantling of the title team early in the season as "the right thing," and even during Sunday's exit interviews, one day after being swept out of the first round by the Oklahoma City Thunder, Carlisle invoked Cuban when asked about his evolution as a coach over his time in Dallas.

"We couldn't have gotten to a championship without what I learned from Jason Kidd and Dirk [Nowitzki] and some of our veteran guys and [Jason Terry], and Mark was a big influence on me, too," Carlisle said. "This is a unique situation because of Mark, because of the kind of guy he is; he's just different. And things around here, there's no secrets. Our practices are open to anybody. My locker room on the road and at home is open to the owner if he wants to stand in there and watch the meeting or if he wants to say anything, and that's just the way I do business because I really believe when the players know that the owner cares that much and is invested that much, it helps engage them even more."

If it's Cuban who's lukewarm to a continuation of the Carlisle era, then who does he want to coach the team? Phil Jackson? Pat Riley? Larry Brown?

Or is this standstill more about Carlisle holding out to shake the trees as a high-demand free agent when his contract expires next month?

He's led successful missions at all three of his stops. He was shown the door in Detroit after two seasons when the aforementioned Brown high-stepped into the Motor City after Carlisle's 2003 run to the East finals. Brown took the keys to a Chauncey Billups-Rip Hamilton-Ben Wallace-revved championship the next season.

Carlisle then joined his old Boston Celtics buddy Larry Bird at Indiana and guided a late-career Reggie Miller on a run to the East finals.

Perhaps Carlisle, 52, wants to shake the great expanse of trees in Portland, where he enjoyed his time as an assistant and where Pacific Northwest media rumblings have for at least a month swept the airwaves and Twitter about stealing Carlisle as the successor to Nate McMillan.

There are worse starting points than power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, a North Texas product much like Deron Williams, the perennial All-Star point guard the Mavs hope to land this summer to keep Nowitzki's window legitimately open.

An All-Star for the first time this season, Aldridge received Carlisle's vote two years ago when other Western Conference coaches gave the ever-improving Seagoville native the snub.

The Blazers need to re-sign restricted free agent Nicolas Batum and add some pieces, but who knows how quickly a young, athletic team could climb the changing West landscape?

Maybe even a certain free agent point guard from The Colony is privy to this.

In fact, why isn't a D-Will/L.A. Texas tandem in RIP City talked up more? Aldridge, 26, is signed for three more seasons, offering big-man stability that Williams, 27, isn't getting from Dwight Howard and won't get from the Mavs, at least not this summer.

The $16 million Portland saves in having amnestied Brandon Roy means Trail Blazers billionaire owner Paul Allen and a yet-to-be-named general manager will have a seat at this summer's free-agent poker table.

Could Carlisle be eyeing a Dallas escape? Who knows? But it sure makes for a delicious conspiracy theory, which is about all this head-scratcher is sure to produce.

Nelson, whose relationship with Carlisle spans to their youths and who convinced Cuban to hire him without conducting a single interview with another candidate, said Carlisle "likes us, we like him and those situations generally get worked out."

Generally, they do.

If not this time, Larry Brown's back in the neighborhood.

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