The departures mark the end of an era for the Mavericks, who triumphed over the Miami Heat in the 2011 Finals on the strength of Nowitzki’s superstar ability and Carlisle’s creative coaching. Dallas has struggled to recapture that magic in the decade since, losing in the first round six times and failing to make the playoffs four times. Doncic’s arrival in 2019 rekindled title aspirations, but the Mavericks fell to the Clippers in the first round of each of the last two postseasons, including in seven games earlier this month.
“Rick informed me today about his decision to step down as head coach,” Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said in a statement. “On top of being a tremendous basketball coach, he was also a friend and a confidant. Rick helped us bring the O’Brien Trophy to Dallas and those are memories I will always cherish. I want to thank Rick for all he gave this franchise and this city. We wish him all the best.”
Earlier this week, Cuban wrote on Twitter that a report suggesting brewing internal tensions in the Mavericks’ front office was “total bulls---.” That report from The Athletic outlined a power struggle between Nelson and director of quantitative research Haralabos Voulgaris, and asserted that Carlisle did not have total autonomy over coaching decisions.
While the 22-year-old Doncic, who earned first team all-NBA honors this week, is an ideal building block, cracks started to show during the playoffs. The Slovenian star was visibly upset with Carlisle over the use of the Mavericks’ timeouts, and he faced an extraordinary amount of defensive attention from the Clippers due to his limited supporting cast.
Carlisle issued a statement to ESPN on Thursday announcing his departure, noting that it was “solely my decision” and that it came after “a number of in-person conversations” with Cuban. In the statement, Carlisle thanked “every player and assistant coach I’ve had here,” and mentioned Cuban, Nelson and Nowitzki, among others, by name. He did not single out Doncic.
“My family and I have had an amazing 13-year experience working with great people in a great city,” he said. “Dallas will always be home, but I am excited about the next chapter of my coaching career.
Since winning their championship, the Mavericks have chased big fish in free agency but often struck out. Their biggest move in recent years was a 2019 trade with the New York Knicks for Kristaps Porzingis, who was slowed by injuries during a disappointing campaign and made little impact in the playoffs. An offseason trade with the Philadelphia 76ers for Josh Richardson also backfired. With Doncic facing a decision this summer on whether to sign a five-year, $205 million rookie contract extension, Dallas will bring in a fresh face to oversee its roster development efforts.
“I just want to thank Donnie for his 24 years of service to this organization,” Cuban said Wednesday in a statement. “Donnie has been instrumental to our success and helped bring a championship to Dallas. His hard work, creativity and vision made him a pioneer. Donnie will always be a part of the Mavs family and I wish him all the best.”
Before Carlisle’s exit was announced, Doncic told reporters in Slovenia on Thursday that Nelson’s departure was “kind of tough on me.”
“I really like Donnie,” he said Thursday at a Slovenian national team news conference. “I [have known] him since I was a kid and he was the one that drafted me. It was tough for me seeing that, but I’m not the one making decisions there.”
Should he choose to pursue another coaching job, Carlisle will be one of the biggest names on this summer’s market. In addition to the Mavericks, the Boston Celtics, Indiana Pacers, New Orleans Pelicans, Orlando Magic, Portland Trail Blazers and Washington Wizards are all seeking new coaches. Carlisle, 61, posted a 555-478 (.537) record in Dallas, making him the winningest coach in Mavericks history. He holds a career record of 836-689 (.548) in 19 seasons with the Detroit Pistons, Pacers and Mavericks.
The 58-year-old Nelson, the son of Hall of Fame coach Don Nelson, began his NBA career in 1984 and has long been regarded for his skills as an evaluator of international talent. Michael Finley, a former Mavericks player and the organization’s vice president of basketball operations, has been mentioned as a candidate to replace Nelson.