Friday is the earliest that the Dallas Mavericks will complete the expected hiring of Rick Carlisle as their new coach, according to NBA coaching sources.
Sources told ESPN.com that Carlisle is scheduled to make his second trip to Dallas at week's end after two days' worth of interviews with the Mavericks last week that established him as the clear favorite to replace the fired Avery Johnson.
After Mavericks president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson turned down owner Mark Cuban's invitation to move to the bench, Carlisle was the first candidate to interview for the Mavericks' vacancy. Carlisle followed up last Thursday's sitdown in Indianapolis with Nelson by flying to Dallas for face-to-face meetings with Cuban and an introductory meeting with star forward Dirk Nowitzki.
Barring an unexpected breakdown in negotiations, sources said, Carlisle could be officially introduced as Dallas' next coach on Friday or Monday.
Multiple sources close to the process have described a forthcoming four-year contract as a "done deal," although Dallas continues to insist that it has no agreement in place with Carlisle, who is completing his first full season as an ESPN analyst.
"We are making significant progress," Nelson told ESPN.com.
This past weekend Nelson acknowledged that the "short list" of potential replacements for Johnson is "very short."
It's a list that does not appear to include Mike D'Antoni, with Dallas declining to take advantage of D'Antoni's sudden availability by following Chicago and New York's lead and requesting an immediate interview with the Suns' coach.
Cuban has yet to comment on the Mavs' search, but Carlisle told The Dallas Morning News in a story posted on its Web site Tuesday night: "My agent has returned from Europe, and we're still talking. We're moving in a good direction. Things are moving along."
Agent Warren LeGarie told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in another story posted Tuesday night: "It seems at this point we're moving closer. We're finding more in agreement than disagreement, more common ground. We're moving toward concluding a deal."
ESPN.com reported last week that Nelson was Cuban's first choice to replace Johnson, but club sources say Nelson does not want to leave his personnel post and that Cuban will not try to force Nelson to reconsider. In an interview last Thursday with ESPN Radio's Dallas affiliate, KESN 103.3 FM, Nelson did not dispute the idea that the job would already be his if he wanted it but also insisted, "I think there's better candidates out there."
That stance quickly led Dallas to Carlisle, who, according to team sources, plans to bring two recent former NBA head coaches -- Dwane Casey and Terry Stotts -- to Dallas as assistants on his staff.
If this widely anticipated marriage does not collapse, Carlisle and his new employers inevitably will face questions about his past personality clashes in Detroit and Indianapolis and coaching style that will be likened to the conservative, controlling Johnson. But Carlisle, 48, also would appear to offer the best blend of offensive and defensive pedigree after posting a record of 281-211 (.571) in stints with the Pistons and Pacers. Mavericks management -- and Nowitzki specifically -- have spoken of balance as a priority in recent days.
After serving as an offensive coordinator of sorts for Larry Bird with the Pacers during Bird's strong three-season stint as Pacers coach from 1997-98 through 1999-2000 -- which included a trip to the 2000 NBA Finals -- Carlisle won NBA Coach of the Year honors in his first season in Detroit in 2001-02. He posted consecutive 50-32 records before the Pistons replaced him with Larry Brown. Carlisle moved to the Pacers and went 61-21 in his first season before losing in the conference finals to Brown during Detroit's 2004 championship run. He then guided the Pacers to two more playoff bids despite seemingly constant off-court turmoil and injury which followed Indiana's infamous brawl in Detroit in November 2004.
Carlisle also has interviewed with the Chicago Bulls and the New York Knicks but is not believed to be a finalist for either job. Johnson interviewed Tuesday with new Knicks team president Donnie Walsh and joins ex-Knicks guard Mark Jackson, also an ESPN analyst, as a strong contender for the New York job. Jackson has likewise interviewed with Chicago, but signals are growing stronger by the day that D'Antoni is the favorite to fill the Bulls' opening now that the Suns have allowed him to search for a new job.
Back in Dallas, this is the first time Cuban -- for all his perceived volatility -- has fired a coach and the first time he's considering external candidates.
Cuban inherited Don Nelson as a coach when he assumed ownership control of the Mavs in January 2000 and ultimately gave Nelson two contract extensions after they hit it off in those first few months together. Cuban then targeted Johnson as Nelson's replacement when Johnson was still a player and assistant coach, repeatedly observing Johnson's ability to lead and motivate from his daily seat in close proximity to the Dallas bench. Don Nelson, furthermore, asked out more than he was pushed out in March 2005.
Yet it looks as though Cuban is prepared to move more quickly than anyone expected, even though giving such a big job to someone he knows well -- as he generally likes to do in his businesses -- would be possible this time only if Donnie Nelson changed his mind and asked for his clipboard back.
Although he was once a hotshot coaching prospect before his full-time move to the front office when Johnson took over as head coach, Donnie Nelson insists that's not an option.
"My job is to get the best guy that we can get out there," Donnie Nelson said in his radio interview. "I'm on the list. I'm just the last guy and hopefully it doesn't get to that. I'm saying we'd have to get through a very, very long list in order for [Donnie Nelson to coach the team] and don't look for it to happen."
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.