DALLAS -- Rick Carlisle will remind anybody who listens that the commitment to defense was the primary reason the Dallas Mavericks won a championship last season.
His biggest challenge might be to get his team to continue that commitment without some major pieces to the puzzle.
Tyson Chandler, the defensive backbone and emotional leader, is the New York Knicks’ new big man. Defensive coordinator Dwane Casey is the Toronto Raptors’ head coach.
Now Carlisle has to figure out how to fit in several new pieces, adjusting to suit the skill sets of Lamar Odom and Vince Carter, while maintaining the same attitude and disposition that allowed the Mavs to rank eighth in defensive efficiency last season.
“We won the championship last year partly because we were uncomfortable all the time,” Carlisle said. “Part of my job is to make sure that we have a healthy discomfort every day, knowing that there’s things that we’re going to have to do extremely well, even better than last year, to put ourselves in position to defend. With a lot of new pieces, we’ve got a lot of challenges here.”
Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson points out that Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion were never known as defensive stoppers until the Mavs’ title run. That pair of veterans played key roles in containing superstars such as Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, especially in crunch time during the playoffs.
That, Nelson said, is a credit to Carlisle. That’s why Nelson thinks the Mavs will still be a stingy defensive team with Brendan Haywood as the Mavs’ only true big man.
“That’s what coaching is all about,” Nelson said. “If anybody can do it, Rick Carlisle can.”
Nelson, who can’t think of another coach as creative with his lineups, with the possible exception of his dad Don Nelson, is just as confident that Carlisle will maximize the Mavs’ immense offensive potential. It will be especially interesting to see the variety of ways that Carlisle utilizes Odom’s point forward skills.
Perhaps the most important thing Carlisle did last season was getting a veteran team to buy into a selfless style. He credits Marion for setting that tone by embracing a bench role until Caron Butler’s knee injury forced a lineup shuffle.
Now Carlisle has to get a title-defending team, with a couple of high-profile additions, to buy in again.
“It’s not just the definition of roles, it’s the acceptance of roles,” Carlisle said. “You can define roles all you want, but if you have guys that are hesitant or unwilling to accept them, then you’re going to have problems.”
Carlisle doesn’t envision problems. He embraces challenges.
“I’m not looking for it to be easy,” Carlisle said. “I promise you that.”