The first thing you need to know about Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle is that he sent one of his players home during the playoffs. He wasn’t happy with the attitude of Rajon Rondo and so he basically kicked Rondo off the team. Carlisle was the coach during the infamous Malice at the Palace and in his playing career with the Celtics, Knicks, Nets, Albany Patroons, he saw just about every kind of offense, defense, happy player, sulking player, stardom in its prime, medicority on the bench. Carlisle was on the sidelines when Dr. J and Larry Bird went toe-to-toe in a brawl and they both were ejected after the explosiveness.
As coaches go, Carlise is underrated, but he is a NBA coach so his ego is triggered from time to time. Carlsile has coached 1255 games and has 707 wins. He has had young teams and old teams and in the middle teams and he pulled off the grand upset in 2011 when he beat LeBron for the NBA title as the underdog. Carlisle has earned the right to say whatever he wants with conviction. He is President of the Coaches Association but more importantly, he is a NBA lifer that has survived multiple transformations of the sport. He has seen Rick Mahorn power forwards and Kevin Garnett power forwards. He has witnessed Magic Johnson, a 6-9 playmaker point guard, and Steph Curry, a 6-3 shotmaker point guard. His experience alone gives him him a level of stature within the ecosytem; he can be stategic in his fuming and at the same time, he can be historical.
When he made a special point to blast ESPN on Sunday night, everyone paid particular attention to the message and the messenger.
Earlier in the day, ESPN broke a story about LaVar Ball’s latest attention seeking moment. Ball has soured on Lakers coach Luke Walton for the indignity of having a young team that struggles to win. Walton and the Lakers have looked pretty dreadful to no one’s surprise. They had lost nine games in a row before disposing of the hapless Hawks. The Lakers hadn’t won a home game in 47 days until Atlanta strolled into town. Of the 8 players that play 20 minutes or more for the Lakers, only 3 are on their second NBA contract. There is a lot of inexperience. Add to that, their best player is a rookie. The team was flailing and gasping and dispirited as the losses piled up.
The losing streak made logical sense considering the Lakers are next to last in opponents points, which is mathematically worse than they were last year, so they have regressed in certain areas. Players are glum. Fans are glum because the Lakers don’t have a first round top-5 pick.
Enter LaVar stirring the pot as he is trying to sell shoes and position himself as having more influence and wisdom than a NBA insider when he is just a concerned father. He told ESPN that the Laker players are not playing hard for Luke Walton. They are tuning him out. The locker room is lost. It was a predictable smear for Ball who likes to create chaos in a Steve Bannon-esque way. ESPN was more than eager to facilitate the dramatics instead of considering the source and treading carefully.
Naturally, Walton was asked about the LaVar opinion, ridiculous as it may seem, or not for those who agree with Ball, and there are some who do. Walton’s only concern, however, was the effect of the remarks on Lonzo. If he believes what his father is chortling.
Enter Rick Carlise. Carlisle has one of those faces that registers disdain and disgust without a muscle moving. His clapback on ESPN left no doubt as to what he, a coach, was feeling about a pompous parent attacking a coach via the ESPN delivery system.
“They [ESPN] should back up the coaches. Printing an article where the father of an NBA player has an opinion that is printed as anything like legitimate erodes trust. It erodes that trust that we’ve built with ESPN and our coaches are upset because Luke Walton does not deserve that. Two years ago, he took a veteran team and led them to 24 wins in a row which is an amazing accomplishment. Off of that, he earned the Lakers job. To have to deal with these kinds of ignorant distractions is deplorable.” (Rick Carlisle)
Carlisle has this grand sense of justice. As President of the Coaches Association, he is both an insider and the insider. But he is not very enlightened about ESPN, who he once worked for. It is not their job to back up the coaches, despite the difficult job coaches are charged with. ESPN is a delivery system for journalistic content, not an applause meter for NBA coaches or their advocate when faced with hostile observers.
Repeating everything a provocateur like LaVar Ball says is a break down of journalistic standards- that is the point to be made. Aside from that, everyone needs to stay in their own professional lane.
LaVar isn’t a mystery. He needs a healthy dose of attention. He wants to sell shoes. He loves being talked about and in a very specific way he is using ESPN for his own materialistic goals. Carlisle, in his rant, alludes to coaches feeling a raw anger about Ball criticizing one of their own. We get that. Coaching is a private club. LaVar Ball is a parent. It is rare for those two separate cliques to align at the same right angle.
In his rant against ESPN, and his later defense of Luke Walton, Carlisle, either on purpose or by default, soldified Walton’s standing in the league and with the Lakers. NBA coaches have embraced Walton for his past excellence with the Warriors. It has given him legitimacy on this long haul of pulling the Lakers back to relevancy.
Walton has thrown himself to the wolves as he bravely tries to make the Lakers gig work. No one knows how it is going to turn out. The Lakers are a very difficult job in a tough city with a fan base that self-nurtures unrealistic expectations. In his second year of learning, Walton has adequately managed his players strengths and weaknesses while trying to improve the product, all with Magic Johnson’s expectation of a Paul George type to save them in 2018-19. Carlisle’s defense of Walton was admirable, caring, and an extension of his character.
But. If ESPN wants to be gossipy and get clicks because they decide to go the low hanging fruit LaVar Ball route, that is within their shallow prerogative. Just as they can’t tell Carlisle how to run pick and roll, he can’t tell them who to quote, what their content should be, and how deeply they attach themselves to the LaVar Ball overreaction.
Carlisle said of ESPN:
“They should look at their sources and do a better job determining whether they have any merit or validity. Or are they just blowhard loudmouths?”