THOUGH THE season has yet to tip off and every team is talking rainbows and butterflies, it's not a stretch to say that the Mavericks' Rick Carlisle era is already a success. According to The Dallas Morning News, several players became so frustrated last season under coach Avery Johnson that they asked to be traded. Owner Mark Cuban fired Johnson in April and brought Carlisle aboard 10 days later. "I thought [the hiring] was a great thing," says All-Star point guard Jason Kidd, who became a weakside jump shooter under Johnson. "The big thing is, Rick has won everywhere he has gone."
For Carlisle, who compiled a 492--281 (.636) record over six seasons with the Pistons and the Pacers, the Mavs may be his toughest challenge to date. They have bombed out in the first round in the past two seasons, they are significantly over the salary cap and they have seemingly been passed in the already tough Western Conference by the Hornets and the Rockets, among others.
Carlisle's main problem will be the same one that plagued Johnson: how to integrate an up-tempo point guard with a roster—led by 2007 MVP Dirk Nowitzki—that is better suited to the half-court. "What we would like to be is a bit of a hybrid-type team," Carlisle says, "one that can be a very good defense and rebounding team on one hand and on the other hand be able to get the ball up the court quickly for easy baskets."
Can he make that happen? "My experience has been that if you have a veteran team with pride and motivation," Carlisle says, "they shouldn't be written off."
A rival scout on the MAVERICKS: Jason Kidd can lead them for one more year, but it's not going to be easy. He's 35, and he'll be chasing around young, quick point guards in an era when you're not allowed to grab and hold. They don't have any other options either—I mean, Jason Terry isn't going to chase them around.... Josh Howard has had a lot of negative p.r., so Rick Carlisle will want to get him going early to turn that around. If Howard struggles and the fans are on him, he could be somebody they move at midseason.... Dirk Nowitzki doesn't inspire his team defensively, and even worse, he and his team appear to have lost their fight offensively. In the old days they could be down 18 and still be a threat to come back.... Brandon Bass was a great find. He can get to where he wants to go and has a good touch with his turnaround jump shot.... Jerry Stackhouse has lost something, which is understandable at his age . He's not going to tear you up getting to the basket, which means you can play him more straight up.
Jason Kidd's 14 triple doubles as a Maverick matches the total number by every other player in franchise history. But just one of Kidd's career-high 13 last season came after Dallas reacquired him in February.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE with 2007--08 statistics
KEY BENCH PLAYERS: G-F Jerry Stackhouse, F Brandon Bass, C DeSagana Diop*, G-F Antoine Wright, F Devean George
Record: 51--31 (7th in West)
Points scored: 100.4 (12th in NBA)
Points allowed: 95.9 (6th)
Coach: Rick Carlisle (first season with Mavericks)
OLD RELIABLE The 30-year-old Nowitzki remains the primary half-court scorer on a team that will try to run more.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH
DAVID E. KLUTHO