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Monday, January 9, 2012
Updated: January 11, 8:56 AM ET
Rick Carlisle holds players accountable

By Jean-Jacques Taylor
ESPNDallas.com

We can talk about a championship hangover for the Dallas Mavericks. Or the ridiculous schedule that's cramming 66 games into 123 days this season.

We can even discuss how long it's going to take players such as Delonte West, Vince Carter and Lamar Odom to adapt to the Mavs' free-flowing offense and defense coverages.

Each would be a valid excuse for a sluggish 4-5 start to the season that already has included blowout losses to Miami, Denver and San Antonio.

The beauty of Rick Carlisle and why he's become one of the NBA's best coaches is that he refuses to accept them.

Rick Carlisle
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle has mastered holding his players accountable by fluctuating their playing minutes based on performance.
Each and every one of them.

In this era of pampered, sensitive overpaid jocks regardless of sport, it's nice to see a coach who doesn't pander to the players. Carlisle prefers to keep it real.

If a player's doing well, he'll say it. If a player's struggling, he'll say it. If the player deserves a public prodding, he'll deliver it. The same rules apply to the team.

Remember when Carlisle called the team soft after a one-point loss to the New Orleans Hornets last March? Jason Terry, among others, didn't appreciate the reference.

So what?

The truth is the truth. And at that point of the season, Carlisle spoke the truth. Too many coaches don't.

Confrontation is good. Always has been. Folks respond to it. There's a difference between confrontation and cursing out players and humiliating them. Too many coaches don't know the difference.

Confrontation involves telling a player that he needs to improve, telling him he has the skill set to do so and then giving him the tools to get better.

Sure, some guys are going to be mad from time to time. Again, so what? Winning cures virtually all problems. Besides, confrontation, when properly used, is the best way for coaches to succeed these days.

The best coaches don't leave any room for interpretation. They remove all ambiguity.

And they make their players and teams accountable. Every single day.

One way to do that is by exerting control over the one thing players covet, besides cash: playing time.

It's the best and most efficient way to get a player's attention. Carlisle has mastered this. If your name isn't Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Terry or probably Shawn Marion, your minutes will fluctuate based on performance.

Those who perform well, play; those who don't, sit.

Exhibit A this season? Odom.

He's still working his way into shape while learning how to fit into the Mavs' free-flowing motion offense instead of the rigid triangle offense the Los Angeles Lakers ran for years.

Odom has averaged less than 31.5 minutes per game once in his career -- he played 29.7 minutes per game in 2009 -- but he is averaging just 19.9 this season. He's played more than 26 minutes just twice.

As soon as he plays better, he'll be on the court more. You think the other vets new to the team don't see that? You think the young players on this team don't see that and take notice?

Roddy Beaubois is getting additional time at backup point guard while Kidd works through a minor back injury.

He scored a season-high 11 points in 16 minutes against New Orleans, though he took 10 shots. Carlisle wasn't impressed, saying Beaubois needed to improve his defense and decision-making, so the Mavs could maximize his ability.

And that's why you shouldn't worry about the Mavs' slow start, even though they should reach .500 for the first time Tuesday with a win over Detroit.

Carlisle won't let this team have a pity party just because it must deal with some adversity. He'll challenge it to fight instead of resting on last year's accomplishments.

The banner-raising was poignant, and the trip to the White House on Monday was cool. The ring ceremony will be memorable and fun.

But the Mavs can't spend any more time basking in the feel-good moments they created last season.

They must move on. Carlisle will make sure of it.

Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.