I think anyone who takes their blind off for a second can see this team has grossly underperformed it's talent level. You never say that about a team coached by the true elites ---Gregg Popovich, Larry Brown, Phil Jackson --- and frankly you rarely say it about the other active coaches with better winning percentages than him.
Erick Spoelstra, Tom Thibideau, Stan Van Gundy, Scott Brooks, Frank Voegel, David Joerger, George Karl --- they have all proven to be capable of regularly coaching a depleted roster to wins.
I have only seen Carlisle do that once --- the championship playoff run that turned his reputation from that of a coach that was considered pretty good to one considered elite by Dallas media.
Really I think there is not a huge difference qualitatively between Carlisle and the guys slightly below him on the winning percentage list --- Jeff Hornacek, Doc Rivers, Kevin McHale, Flip Saunders, and even (gulp) Jason Kidd. Carlisle has a huge arrogance blind spot that totally caps his ceiling as a coach.
My ears bled the other day when the local Mav announcers weighed in on Carlisle claiming the blame for this team's recent woes and proclaimed him utterly without blame and one of the two best coaches in the league.
Did you see the starter's +/- vs. Cleveland? -27. That has nothing to do with coaching? What? Are coaches not supposed to know their teams and what they need?
Is he a good coach, absolutely. He is rare in that he cares about defense while having a mind well tuned to make minor offensive adjustments that pay dividends.
I think that leads people to overrate him vs. coaches like Spoelstra and Thibideau who are one track defensive drum beaters.
The trouble is he can only get along with about half the talented players Donnie Nelson brings in. If they don't figuratively lap at Carlisle's feet, he alienates them, they play poorly, and he forces them out. The latest example? Rajon Rondo. That intransience is costing Dirk the last years of his career.
Carlisle wants Rondo to be Jason Kidd. It isn't going to happen. He has to give a little to get what he wants out of Rondo. I've seen this play out over and over in Dallas under Carlisle. Carlisle getting his head straight is an unlikely situation. A much more likely scenario is that Rondo bolts Dallas as a free agent to get away from Carlisle, costing the Mavs their investment and closing the door on Dirk's window.
What would need to happen to right the ship
I don't know if Rondo can be saved without firing Carlisle after the season, but I was a fan of this team when Cuban owned Broadcast.com. I don't want to see Dirk's last days wasted. This is my suggestion to right the team this year and do what can be done to fix the Rondo/Carlisle schism.
You need to have a private talk with Carlisle and tell him he has to surrender some control to Rondo and stop micromanaging him. Give him a ton of rope. Let him be one of the team's closers.
It is plainly apparent that Dirk and Ellis function better without Rondo. Both play better with Barea or Harris at the point. Well, that isn't an issue today as they both look injured and are not capable of hitting open shots presently. Both of them need to sit a few games. As does Tyson Chandler for the same reason. All three could use a week to 10 days of pool time and training. Dirk and Ellis need to also spend the non-contact time recovering their jump shots.
Mav fans and media's heads explode at the suggestion. "We only have 4 fewer losses than New Orleans and Oklahoma City and both are playing much better than us!" That is all true.
But consider this plan. You give Dirk, Ellis, and Chandler the next 11 days off. That leaves the team with a 5 game span without them --- Clippers, Thunder, Magic, Grizzlies, Suns.
Dallas will lose to the Clips, Grizzlies, and either the Thunder or the Suns. With or without their stars that looks like a 2-3 run, so why not rest them?
It is fairly likely that New Orleans and OKC will go 3-2 or 4-1 in that time period. That means if you take care of business the Mavs will have a healthy roster and at worst 2 less losses to start the end of season push.
If you truly believe this team has the talent to compete, then a minor lead for the 8th spot is not an issue. A healthy Mavs team will finish out their last games with a winning percentage in the 65% range. If you believe in the talent, then pull the trigger.
How to sculpt the 11 day roster to compete and how to heal the Rondo rift
Carlisle has to communicate much better with Rondo and show him that he respects his resume. Right now Carlisle treats Rondo like he is a replaceable cog of the same quality as Berea and Harris. Barea was run off his last team's roster and Ellis was dropped from several team's plans. While both fit what Dallas does quite well, it doesn't change the fact these guys are a notch above CBA caliber and if Dallas was not in the league, they may not be either.
Carlisle has to understand what an insult that is for an all-star. Carlisle is pissed that Rondo makes needless turnovers. To a degree, that is Rondo. With Rondo feeling disrespected, that is going to be slow to change.
Carlisle needs to meet privately with Rondo and call a truce for the rest of the season and the playoffs for the benefit of Dirk and Chandler. Call for a fresh start. Leave the past in the past.
Carlisle will agree to play Rondo 35-40 minutes a night and will never take him off the floor in crunch time. He will restructure the second team offense totally around Rondo's skillset and tweak the starter's offense a bit to help Rondo as well. He will stop micro managing Rondo. In return Rondo will try to make the simple passes, will own every minute with the second team, and will listen to Carlisle in the last 5 minutes of games.
The reality is that maximizing your talent is what top coaches do. They put their players in a position to succeed. Rather than pounding on Rondo for not fitting into the existing offense, Carlisle should have been cutting Dirk and Ellis's minutes to get them healthy and working the rest of the team around Rondo's skillset.
In the 12-18 minutes a game where Dirk and Ellis sit, Rondo can very much create open shots for the rest of the roster. He can make those minutes a lot more productive.
While 3 of the big four sit, I'd recommend this:
5- James (30), Stoudemire (15), Smith (3 of mugging duty to prepare him for a playoff role)
4- Aminu (30), Villanueva (18)
3- Parsons (35), Jefferson (13)
2- Berea (35), Harris (13)
1- Rondo (40), Harris (8)
Rondo will be tasked with setting up Parsons and Berea with shot opportunities. Both will be strongly encouraged to take any decent shot they get.
Rondo, Aminu, and James should have the team playing defense at a moderate level and Rondo should be able to manufacture some layups for the young bigs to offset their offensive weaknesses. Your three oldies on the front line would not be overworked picking up a few more minutes on the second team. They can score a little.
Now obviously this won't beat a playoff team, but it can take down a non-playoff team.
Come the San Antonio game, you add the injured trio back in and the offense naturally transitions with Rondo staying your minute leader. Rondo would play about 18 minutes with the backups continuing what chemistry the team built in the 5 games, and would have about 20 minutes where he would have to conform slightly to what Dirk and Ellis are comfortable with. In the 10 minutes he is out, Dirk and Ellis would be expected to score almost every point. Compromise!
5- Chandler (28), Stoudemire (15), James (5)
4- Dirk (30), Aminu (13), Villanueva (5)
3- Parsons (35), Jefferson (13)
2- Ellis (35), Berea (5), Harris (8)
1- Rondo (38), Harris (5), Berea (5)
It is the perfect plan? No, but when injuries hit no recovery plan is perfect. A good coach should figure out some kind of injury management plan rather than appearing to be a deer stuck in headlights.
It should be good enough to go 2-3 in the next 5 games and give the trio 11 days of recovery time.