INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Rick Carlisle’s third go-around with the Pacers is officially underway after a news videoconference that lasted just under an hour.
Carlisle phoned in from his vacation home in South Carolina, and his first day “in the office” at the Ascension St. Vincent Center is set for Monday.
Carlisle is still putting together his coaching staff, and his wife, Donna, and daughter Abby — she was born in Indiana during his first head-coaching stint with the Pacers — are thrilled to be returning to a familiar home.
Here are the three of the most essential notes from Carlisle’s Q & A session:
‘This is my kind of team’
At 61 years old and coming off the best head coaching run in Dallas Mavericks franchise history, Carlisle certainly wasn’t looking for a long-term rebuild situation.
Pacers President Kevin Pritchard reiterated Wednesday that this current core will not be stripped down and flipped for picks this summer. This is a “win now” game plan with a starting lineup that Carlisle believes is one healthy season away from a significant jump. He also added trying to re-sign free agents T.J. McConnell and Doug McDermott are priorities this summer.
“As I look at this roster and this opportunity, I see a group of guys that to me are at the right age. They have been through some pretty wide-ranging experiences over the last two or three years. Health is going to play a big part in this team’s success. (Pacers Head Trainer) Josh Corbeil who I have worked for before, who I consider to be one of the best in this business is going to be a key part of this…. We have to get this team as healthy as possible. I have been able to have a conversation with all the guys on the roster. Some of them, I have had multiple conversations with. I like the way they are talking. I like the tone. We are going to make a heavy emphasis on getting better defensively and finding ways to create as many small edges as we can. We need to get back in the playoffs, and we need to find a way to win in the playoffs. It is pretty clear that is what the mandate is.”
Domantas Sabonis is ‘the guy,’ but that isn’t a ‘big deal’
News 8 asked Carlisle about establishing a clear-cut leader on his new roster. Earlier this offseason, Pritchard unprovoked brought to light his concerns around the team’s lack of a vocal presence on the floor who others can lean on throughout the season. Carlisle believes, much like the Detroit Pistons team he took over in 2001, which eventually won the 2004 NBA Title under Larry Brown, this unit doesn’t necessarily need a clear-cut superstar to carry the load long term.
“Domantas Sabonis was an all-star this year. I think he is the guy that people look at as sort of the main guy. But, I really feel like this is a team; when you are talking about the best players it is a strength-in-numbers type of situation. There has to be a certain type of balance…. They (Detroit) were able to win a championship with that kind of strength in numbers core group of high-level players. I look at Malcolm Brogdon; I look at Caris LeVert. TJ Warren didn’t really even play last year; I think he played three games last year. Myles Turner is the best rim protector in the game statistically. Domas is a guy that he has established he can play at different levels. He can score at the rim, he drives it, his three-point shooting, gets to the free-throw line, and he can shoot it…. Yes, identifying who the guys are and where the ball is going to go in crunch time is important. Role identification is huge. Role acceptance is bigger.”
The Malice at the Palace still stings
Nearly 17 years since the Pacers-Pistons brawl at the now-dismantled The Palace in Auburn Hills, Michigan, the what-if’s still play out in Carlisle’s mind. A team that many pegged as a championship front-runner now is best known for one of the worst chapters in league history.
“That memory (of that team) is bittersweet for sure. It is a source of emotion really because of everything that happened that year. After getting a lot of guys suspended … Ronnie (Ron Artest) was suspended for the entire season. Stephen (Jackson) was out for 30 games. Jermaine O’Neal was suspended 25 (games), but then I think they shortened it to 15. There may have been one other one. The way that group stuck together and found a way to turn it into a positive was one of the great examples of team resourcefulness that I have ever seen in sport or been involved in. But, I think we all learned something that year: How delicate expectations are. How tenuous things can be.
“The raw power of emotions and when they go the wrong way, it can change history. I take all of that. I take great stock in it. It has helped teach me a lot about myself and what ‘team’ is. The values are important to team building and to our organization. You don’t experience growth without really incredible challenges.”