Pacers pay through to scalp for Rick Carlisle to return as head coach

Rick Carlisle will come back to Indiana with similar expectations to win and far less hair than when he left.

What is it with Pacers president Kevin Pritchard hiring bald coaches?

Rick Carlisle will become the third straight Pacers coach who shaves his scalp rather than proudly rock what he’s got.

We know follicle maintenance had nothing to do with Pritchard’s decision to negotiate a four-year, $29 million deal to bring Carlisle back to the franchise for a third time.  Carlisle first worked for the Simons as an assistant to Larry Bird for three seasons beginning with 1997-1998.  He then served as the head coach for four seasons beginning with the 2003-2004.

The Pacers won a franchise record 61 games in Carlisle’s first year as a head coach, and he also won an NBA championship with Dallas in 2011.  That tells you that Carlisle can coach.  The real question is whether coaches matter in today’s NBA, where rosters are assembled to win championships by players who act in concert to give themselves the best opportunity.

That is the subject of a post for another day.  Back to Carlisle…

As with any coach who has been around for a significant stretch, there are negatives that can be isolated too.  Every Pacers team under Carlisle after the 2004 team won fewer games than the previous year.  That wasn’t Carlisle’s fault.  The Brawl eviscerated the 2005 team, and Reggie Miller’s retirement in 2005 didn’t help the 2006 team.  By 2007, the Pacers were in the process of responding to fan disenchantment over nightlife chaos by dealing core members of that team.

Carlisle was told to pack in 2007 after a 37-45 season.  After a year in media, he was tapped by Mavs owner Mark Cuban to replace Avery Johnson.  Carlisle’s first three teams won 50, 55, and 57 games.  That third team won the franchise’s only NBA Championship.

Since the championship in Dallas, Carlisle has spent a full decade unable to advance to the second round of the playoffs, including a seven-game loss to the Clippers just a couple of weeks ago.

One week ago, Carlisle announced he was stepping down as Mavs coach, a position he held for 13 seasons.

The Pacers have everyone but T.J. McConnell, Doug McDermott, and JaKarr Sampson under contract for next season, plus the 13th overall pick in next month’s NBA Draft.  That should give Carlisle and the Pacers an opportunity to hit the ground running and win a bunch of games.

Whether it translates to postseason success, we will have to wait ten months to find out.

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