In a move that surprised some last month, the Orlando Magic and head coach Steve Clifford parted ways. The reasons for this have been suspiciously lacking, with a number of theories put forward. The most obvious being that the organization has entered another rebuild, and that Clifford has a record of taking good teams and pushing them into the playoffs.
With that goal off the agenda for the next couple of seasons, an opportunity now exists for the Magic to install a head coach who can grow with the young core. It is a job worth taking as well, as having Cole Anthony, Jonathan Isaac, R.J. Hampton, Chuma Okeke and Markelle Fultz is not a bad place to start.
Already we have examined a number of individuals who could make sense for the Magic, because of how they would fit with this young group. All of that went out the window, however, the moment that Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle became available after 13 seasons. There are problems in Texas for the Mavericks right now, but that can be to the Magic’s gain.
Rick Carlisle is a proven winner who would fit with the Orlando Magic
The pros here are obvious and do not require straying far from conventional thinking. The life of an average NBA head coach is depressingly short. The wants and needs of a franchise change on a near yearly basis, while a run of bad results or being in the wrong place at the wrong time can damage a coach’s reputation. It is also an incredibly competitive market.
Yet despite being sent packing from the first round of the playoffs two straight years by the LA Clippers, Carlisle had the constant backing of owner Mark Cuban. These public displays of affection can oftentimes be the kiss of death, but given that Carlisle was there 13 years and is admired around the league, it did not seem that way.
Walking away from the opportunity to coach a generational talent like Luka Doncic means it must have been bad for Carlisle to want to leave. What better way to prove to his previous employers, and everybody around the league, that he is among the best coaches of this generation by taking a small market team like the Magic and making them relevant again?
James Borrego tried. Frank Vogel tried. Both have had success elsewhere. But this is a young group of players that has real potential. Imagine if Carlisle was in charge at a time when Isaac returned from injury and put his name in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation. Perhaps it will be that Fultz turns into a Sixth Man of the Year candidate?
If Carlisle were to go to Orlando and it didn’t work out, his reputation wouldn’t take a massive hit either. To this end, it is less of a gamble than other destinations for him. The Portland Trail Blazers need to win now and keep Damian Lillard happy. The Boston Celtics are a storied franchise that are primed for deep playoff runs for years to come.
There is a real reward there, but the reward that would come from even winning a postseason series with the Magic would be huge. Throw in the no state income tax in Florida, plus the fact Carlisle seems to like the stability of building a long-term project (and you have to imagine having his family settled in one location as well), and it makes sense for both sides.
Right now there are other names floating out there for the head coach job, such as Jason Kidd. Hiring somebody like this would split what is already a fractured and warring fan base even more. Kidd showed some coaching ability while with the Milwaukee Bucks, but by the time his tenure was over there, fans couldn’t wait to see him leave.
Becky Hammon, an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs, is about the only other name that would be met with near universal applause if she gets the job. She is absolutely deserving as well, and it may be that her time has come. The Magic need to nail this appointment though, and while Hammon continues to be a great shout, Carlisle becoming available changes things.
He has won a championship before but not only that, he has demonstrated that you can leave him in place for a long period of time, and his methods will bring success. It certainly helped that Dirk Nowitzki and then Doncic were on all of the rosters that Carlisle oversaw. But to say the success was down to just those players would be discrediting him entirely.
One final note on why this is the guy the Magic need to get to before anybody else. The front office has shown a willingness to have a hands-off approach and work in the background throughout their time in charge. As outspoken as Mavericks owner Cuban is, he never meddled in the affairs of the team. Even if it now coming to light that the front office were doing their own thing.
Carlisle would be left alone in Orlando. Free to build the roster in the vision that he has, while being given the time and relative flexibility given the age and contracts of the players that the Magic have to do it. The organization needs somebody with a long-term vision, and the guy to implement that has suddenly become available. Prioritizing a meeting with Rick Carlisle should be the most important objective right now.