Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban recently admitted that the team tanked away the rest of its season once it became apparent that the playoffs were no longer a viable option. In an interview with Dan Patrick, Cuban said that the Mavs “did everything possible to lose games.”
It’s important to note that tanking games is an organization decision, one that does not trickle down to the players. For the players, it’s their livelihood. No one missed a jump shot on purpose, because everything is on film for every team to see.
Contrarily, teams decide to lose games to improve draft positioning. To tank games, teams will typically trot out a sub-optimal lineup. In the case of the Mavs, they played Yogi Ferrell, an undrafted rookie out of Indiana, a large amount as their starting point guard. Dwight Powell and Dorian Finney-Smith also received more minutes than they probably would have had the team been in contention.
“Once a guy walks on the court, they’re going to play their heart out, particularly the young guys, because they have something to prove,” Cuban said.
The strategy did not help much. The Mavs will pick ninth overall in the draft, meanwhile the best team to not make the playoffs selects 14th. With the Mavs a longshot to make the postseason for most of the season, their decision likely moved the team up 2-3 slots.
Cuban, however, will not get a chance to select one of the game-changing guards–they will be long gone by nine.
The Mavs were not the only club to employ this strategy. The Sacramento Kings and Orlando Magic made similar decisions, although not egregious. The Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns have not admitted to tanking, but they shut down their veterans with months to play in the season.
Cuban’s decision has merit. The Mavs were able to evaluate the end of their roster while simultaneously trying to get a better player for the future. Dallas still played its veterans too, but they limited their minutes.
With the ninth pick, the Mavericks will likely be looking at Lauri Markkanen, a Dirk Nowitzki clone out of Arizona, and international point guard Frank Ntilikina. Forwards Zach Collins and Jarrett Allen could also be in the mix.