Rick Carlisle’s Appalling Treatment of Dennis Smith Jr. Alienated Luka Doncic

Rick Carlisle led the Dallas Mavericks across 13 seasons, more than any other coach in franchise history. But his success continues to be overshadowed by the fractured relationship he had with Luka Doncic in the final years of his coaching tenure. One reason why Carlisle and Doncic failed to see eye-to-eye, according to a new hard-hitting report, stems from the coach’s treatment of former first-round pick Dennis Smith Jr.

The Dallas Mavericks planned to form a 1-2 punch with Luka Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr.

Fresh off of a sub-.500 record for the first time since 1999-00, the Mavericks held the ninth overall selection in the 2017 NBA Draft. They used it to select Smith, an athletic guard out of NC State. One year later, after Smith averaged 15.2 points in 69 games, Dallas struck a draft-day deal for Doncic.

Immediately, the two guards became fast friends. According to a detailed report by Tim MacMahon of ESPN, Smith and Doncic lived in the same apartment building and played video games together. DSJ also showed Luka around the city in preparation for his first season. And the Mavs leaned into the friendship too, pairing the second-year guard and rookie together on media day and having them stand side-by-side on local billboards.

However, Carlisle did not have the same affinity for this duo, specifically Smith. And his treatment of the guard made that painfully evident.

Rick Carlisle was not a fan of Dennis Smith Jr.

Smith’s Mavericks career lasted just 101 games before the 6-foot-2 guard was shipped to the New York Knicks in exchange for Kristaps Porzingis. A big reason why, as it turns out, has to do with the former coach’s feelings about the 2017 first-round pick.

As MacMahon reported, Carlisle soured on Smith about halfway through the guard’s rookie season. Although DSJ’s numbers were solid, it wasn’t enough to convince the coach that the high-usage guard with a mediocre jumper was worth building around. That was only further enforced when Doncic arrived (h/t ESPN).

“Multiple players were shocked during one early-season team meeting when Carlisle accused Smith of being jealous of Doncic, sources said. The players considered it incredibly unfair to Smith, who wasn’t playing well but was making an honest effort to mesh with Doncic on the court.

Doncic particularly resented what he perceived as Carlisle’s attempt to pit him against his friend and teammate, team sources said.”

Tim MacMahon

Carlisle’s treatment of Smith may have led to the decline of the once-promising player. DSJ, still just 24 years old, is already on his fourth team, averaging 5.8 points in 17.4 minutes this season for the Portland Trail Blazers.

The treatment of DSJ alienated Doncic from Carlisle


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The relationship between Luka and Carlisle soured, leading to the Mavericks making a change at coach last offseason. As it turns out, a big reason why is because of how the current Indiana Pacers boss treated Smith and others.

“It wasn’t really about how Rick treated Luka,” a player from the 2018-19 Mavericks team told ESPN. “Luka hated how Rick treated other people.”

Tension only grew between Doncic and Carlisle, with veterans like J.J. Barea being asked to serve as a liaison between the star and coach. Although, the coach did attempt to patch things up with Luka shortly before his exit from Dallas.

With Jason Kidd now at the helm, the Mavericks are hoping to put the past behind them and move on from Carlisle’s tumultuous tenure.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.