INDIANAPOLIS — When Kevin Pritchard hired a new coach in October, he took a calculated risk.
This time, the Indiana Pacers president of basketball operations went for the known commodity.
Pritchard hired longtime Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle on Thursday, bringing back the 61-year-old NBA veteran to the team that relaunched his head coaching career almost two decades ago. Carlisle confirmed the decision to The Associated Press, though the team had no immediate announcement.
The Pacers clearly believe Carlisle can bring stability to a veteran team that battled a rash of injuries last season. The result was a losing record and their first playoff absence in six years.
Carlisle will get a chance to make a quick fix with the same organization he led from 2003-07 and took to the Eastern Conference finals in his first season with the team.
This time, he becomes the third Pacers coach in less than 12 months.
Nate McMillan was fired in August following his fourth straight first-round playoff exit and just weeks after signing a contract extension. His replacement, Nate Bjorkgren, lasted just one tumultuous season in his first NBA head coaching gig before he was fired this month.
The Pacers know what they’re getting in Carlisle, too — a disciplined, old-school coach who spent three seasons as Larry Bird’s assistant during the most successful era in franchise history. Those traits could help the Pacers improve defensively after yielding 115.3 points per game, 25th in the league last season.
The bigger question might be whether Carlisle is the right fit.
After an embarrassing season-ending loss to Washington in the play-in round, Pritchard acknowledged that Pacers players had described Bjorkgren as a micromanager in their end-of-season interviews. The problems even spilled into public view during an in-game shouting match between backup center Goga Bitadze and assistant coach Greg Foster, amid reports of locker-room drama.
Carlisle had similar issues in his 13th and final season in Dallas.
Two-time All-Star Luka Doncic occasionally showed his anger by making angry gestures toward the coach during games and there were reports of “simmering tension” between the two before Carlisle resigned last week, one day after general manager Donnie Nelson left the club. Dallas owner Mark Cuban said it was Carlisle’s decision to leave.
Carlisle is 836-689 overall in tenures with the Pacers, Pistons and Mavs. He went 555-478 and led Dallas to its only NBA championship in 2010-11 with superstar Dirk Nowitzki and is the winningest coach in franchise history. But after making the title run, Carlisle didn’t win another playoff series.
The Mavericks lost in the first round six times, including this year and last year to the Los Angeles Clippers in the first two postseason appearances for Doncic.
Still, Cuban had said he expected Carlisle to return next season. But after the departure of Nelson, who once called Carlisle “our Jerry Sloan,” it didn’t take Carlisle long to decide it was time for a fresh start elsewhere.
Carlisle spent three seasons as Larry Bird’s assistant before taking the Detroit Pistons job in 2001. He was the 2001-02 NBA coach of the year. Two years later, Indiana brought back Carlisle, who went 181-147 in four seasons and was the East’s All-Star coach in 2004.
Carlisle played professionally after graduating from the University of Virginia in 1984. He had transferred to UVA in 1982, after playing for the University of Maine Black Bears from 1979 to 1981. While at UMaine, Carlisle became his conference’s rookie of the year as a freshman and an NABC District 1 all-star as a sophomore.
He went on to play five seasons in the NBA, winning a championship in 1985-86 as Bird’s teammate with the Boston Celtics. When his career ended in 1989, he spent the next decade bouncing around as an assistant before getting his big break in Detroit.
Story by Michael Marot. AP Sports Writer Schuyler Dixon contributed. BDN writer Leela Stockley contributed to this report.