Mark Cuban didn’t see any reason to mess around on Wednesday. Once it became official that his Dallas Mavericks were not going to be a part of the 2017 postseason in early April, Cuban’s Mavs tanked. Just as the guy predicted they would, nearly six months ago.
They tanked in the NBA style – losing five of seven contests to finish the regular season with prospects (in bad need of seasoning) playing their hearts out, sitting Dirk Nowitzki once and never working the 39-year-old star more than 28 minutes in any of those contests, as the Mavs eased their way into the ninth-worst record in the league and, eventually, the ninth pick in this June’s NBA draft.
This wasn’t by careful design, just an April run by rote (in spite of the team signing a 37-year old swingman late in the season with limited upside). In discussing ways to outfit the league and its lottery process with new quirks designed to force teams into playing their stars from games Nos. 1 through 82, Cuban told Dan Patrick the plan:
“The Mavs, once we were eliminated from the playoffs, we did everything possible to lose games.”
Until the NBA changes its lottery rules, and the incentive to take April off, the league is on somewhat unsure footing should it decide to fine or suspend Cuban for his comments.
Patrick pressed for some tricks behind the tank:
DP: “How did you tank?”
MC: “We played all of our young players.”
DP: “Do you send out a memo? Do you say …”
MC: “Naw, once a guy walks out onto the court, they’re going to play their heart out. Particularly the young guys, because they have something to prove. Dorian Finney-Smith, Yogi Ferrell, there’s nothing you can do or say to them to say ‘don’t play hard’ or ‘try to lose this game.’”
Cuban went on to say that the lottery “works well enough,” which is generally true, reminding NBA fans that “until you come up with a better solution, this is what we got.” You can listen to the entire back and forth here:
The Mavericks did lose and lose bigly enough down the stretch, putting together a 2-5 record to finish 2016-17 upon being eliminated from playoff contention on March 31. The dip was enough to pull the Mavs below the New Orleans Pelicans for the ninth slot in the pre-lottery rankings, a move seemingly made all the more easier by the Pelicans’ insistence on playing each game to the hilt due to the Sacramento Kings owning’ NOLA’s first-round pick in 2017, a result of the DeMarcus Cousins trade.
In a thinner world, the Pelicans would have fought to the end beside Boogie and Anthony Davis, looking to give the moribund franchise a needed spark moving forward, mindful of the fact that extra losses wouldn’t do much for the team’s 2017 draft seeding.
Instead, the Pelicans lost five of six games after the end of March, sitting Davis for the final three games and DeMarcus for the Pelicans’ final four, just about signing off on the idea that the two big men would establish any sort of identity alongside each other in the final days of the regular season.
The team instead punted its season in the hopes of increasing the team’s odds of landing a lottery pick in the top three, where Sacramento (by way of NOLA’s protection laws as agreed upon by the Cousins deal) would have to give it right back to New Orleans.
The gambit failed, unsurprising considering the less than 1.6 percent chance New Orleans had at making the top three, entering lottery night. Despite those odds, though, the Pelicans still decided to pack it in, and the 98.4 percent won out: Sacramento will get the 10th pick in this June’s draft, formerly the Pelicans’ selection.
Cuban is hardly a lottery mainstay – he visited the proceedings during his first few months running the club prior to the 2000 draft (Etan Thomas was the selection, at No. 12). The Mavs made the low lottery again in 2013, selecting Kelly Olynyk before dealing the center in a cap-clearing move, and its 2015 lottery pick ended up in the hands of the Celtics as well due to the fallout from a midseason move to deal for Rajon Rondo in 2014-15.
The No. 9 pick will serve as the first top-ten selection in Cuban’s time running the team, and with the NBA’s lottery odds system now entering either its second half-century (following the 1990 move toward weighted odds) or its fourth decade (upon the introduction of the event in 1985), Cuban’s easy math was always assured.
Ask him. Last November:
Q: Would you consider tanking this season?
A: We will look at that like game 75 or maybe game 70. Like I said many times when six teams are racing to the bottom you don’t want to race to the bottom. When teams aren’t racing to the bottom, which is more like this year, then you play your heart out and win as many games as you can. When your young guys learn how to play to win, you’re still going to have a chance at a good pick if things aren’t working for you.
The 2016-17 Dallas Mavericks were eliminated from playoff contention on March 31, in game No. 75. The team, with Dorian Finney-Smith nearly doubling his minutes per game average from week before, went on to lose five of seven contests to end the season.
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