Tanking is a bad word. No one wants to watch their team lose, especially on purpose, but it has the potential to make the best of a bad situation.
Tanking is the worst. No one wants their team to do it (Unless you’re Spike Lee and his terrible NY Knicks) and it really takes the wind out of a season, but it has value if you believe the ends justify the means. Greg Popovich sums up my opinion on tanking when he spoke to ESPN about using the Hack-A-Shaq principle back in 2014:
“I hate it. I think it’s awful. I hate doing it. Seriously. I think it’s a pain in the neck, fans don’t like it, I don’t like it, nobody likes it. It disrupts the flow of the game. If there’s an equitable way to get rid of it, I’m all for it. But it’s part of the game. It’s part of the rules now and…you might as well take advantage of it.” – Greg Popovich
Tanking is the dirtiest word in basketball, as evidenced by Mark Cuban being fined $600,000 for publicly saying the Mavs should tank on Dr. J’s podcast last year. However you feel on tanking, it got Mavs in position to draft Luka Doncic after having its worst record since Dirk’s rookie season. So if the ends justify the means, one (arguably two) dismal season(s) getting you the superstar of the next 10 years of Mavericks basketball could be seen as completely worth the tradeoff. Even as Luka Doncic is killing it, having scored 4 of the 5 triple doubles ever recorded by a teenager in the NBA, he’s precisely why we need to tank now.
Why Tank Now?
In acquiring Luka, the Mavs traded their upcoming 2019 first round pick to the Atlanta Hawks to move from 5th to 3rd to get him. Well, that pick is top 5 protected, which means that if we get any draft pick from 1-5, we get to keep the pick and Atlanta gets the Mavs pick the following year. While kicking the can down the road is rarely the best option, it might be in this exact instance.
As it sits today, the Mavs are sitting at 13th in the Western Conference with a record of 26-34. This record is 6 games out of the 8th seed for the playoffs, which leaves them a 0.7% chance of making the playoffs at all. However, they are sitting at 8th from the bottom of the league, which currently gives them a 26.3% chance at a top 4 lottery pick and a 6.0% chance at the #1 overall pick according to tankathon.com . Think of that. We have 8.5 times better chance of landing Zion Williamson with the first pick than we do of even squeaking into the playoffs. Not great odds to move up.
Which brings us back to Luka Doncic. Luka is completely capable of putting a team on his back and winning more than our roster says we should at this moment. The problem is that will only increase as time goes on and he somehow improves. Adding Kristaps Porzingis to the roster alongside Luka will make consistent losing a forgotten prospect all together. Therefore, losing over the last 22 games to increase our chance of keeping our pick is our best bet.
Controlling the Pick
No matter what, we will eventually have to convey our pick for Luka to the Hawks (and eventually our picks sent over for Porzingis too), but we can currently control how much VALUE that pick holds. As it currently stands, the Hawks would have a top 5 pick as well as the 8th pick of the Mavs. That would be two lottery picks for the price of Luka. However, if we were to lose the majority of games remaining and keep our pick, we would conceivably give up a FAR worse pick to them next year after adding wins via Porzingis, Luka growth and whatever other offseason additions. That would mean Luka would have cost a top 5 pick and a bottom HALF first round pick (if the Mavs are good enough to Make the playoffs next year). That’s a significant drop in value to the Hawks while adding another young asset to the Mavs core.
The trade deadline resulted in the Mavs getting their future lined up to add Porzingis, but it’s better to think of him as an offseason acquisition as he won’t be helping the team this year. We traded our second leading scorer and best perimeter defender for Tim Hardaway Jr. and a few role players with offseason flexibility. It is more than safe to say that this is as bad of a roster and rotation as the Mavs will have for YEARS, so winning now is a moot point with the team as it stands.
Some Luck Involved
The biggest problem with this entire tanking theory is that the Mavs have next to no chance to catch the worst 5 teams in the league. The Hawks have the most wins of the bottom 5 with 20 and for them to win more than the Mavs can lose at this point seems nearly impossible. However, they can improve their chance at the a top 4 pick in the lottery by getting into the 7th or 6th spot respectively, which are currently occupied by Washington and Memphis. Of note is that the Mavs play the Grizzlies 3 more times over the last 22 games. If we can lose all 3 to them, that even swap of wins versus losses will help us move from a 26.3% chance at a top 4 pick to 37.2% chance. The Mavs haven’t had great lottery odds the past few years and with the Mavs luck for the first 8 months of this season, it’s not out of line to think the basketball gods might finally send the Mavs lottery luck back in the right direction.
Ok, but How?
Well, it starts with reducing your team’s overall talent level, which was done when traded out DeAndre’s 12 rebounds a game and replaced it with nothing, and Barnes consistent 18 points a game and inserted a streaky Tim Hardaway Jr. at the deadline. That’s a start. Then you strategically rest players (Luka sat against Denver and Utah). And as Coach Carlisle stated, the lineups are going to be more fluid while the team assesses players down the stretch. That means that bad lineups end up on the floor just to see what happens or, more sinisterly, force an outcome. Look, when Salah is allowed to shoot multiple 3s without getting pulled, you know the Mavs aren’t going all out for the win.
Conceiving this article and thinking of its inner workings put a bad taste in my mouth and makes me cringe to think that losing is best for my team that has been so exciting to watch for the first half of the season. However, the moves at the trade deadline made Mavs fans so excited for the future that we couldn’t wait to get there. And if losing gets us there in better position, I guess we should be for it. Once we have Porzingis next to Luka, we can’t possibly lose with the consistency of the past few years, so it makes the idea of losing the rest of this stretch more bearable. And we get to see Dirk pass Wilt. 79 points to go.
Let’s hang in there. Next year is going to be one to celebrate.
Featured Image: Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports