Julius Erving has a podcast, which is weird, because I assumed Dr. J didn’t know what a podcast was.
Weirder, though, is that Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban openly admitted to tanking on “House Call with Dr. J.” Or maybe it’s not weird. Cuban has fessed to tanking before, after the fact, and we all know the Mavs — owners of the league’s third-worst record (18-40) — have no incentive to win and every incentive to lose and increase their draft lottery odds. It’s not something NBA commissioner Adam Silver wants to hear an owner say, but Cuban says a lot of things Silver doesn’t want to hear.
So, I guess it’s not all that weird, after all. It’s just that we’re being open about it now, I guess.
“I’m probably not supposed to say this, but, like, I just had dinner with a bunch of our guys the other night and here we are, you know, we weren’t competing for the playoffs, I was like, ‘Look, losing is our best option,’” Cuban told Dr. J, via The Dallas Morning News. “Adam would hate hearing that, but I at least sat down and I explained it to them. And I explained what our plans were going to be this summer, that we’re not going to tank again, this was, like, a year-and-a-half tanking and that was too brutal for me. But being transparent, I think that’s the key to being kind of a players’ owner and having stability.”
That was enough to earn Cuban a $600,000 fine from the league office amid larger concerns over rampant sexual misconduct in the organization. The penalty for publicly admitting to tanking marks one of the largest in NBA history, behind the $2.5 million fine former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling received for making racist statements. Cuban was fined $500,000 in 2002 for a derogatory gesture and postgame comments he made about a referee. The Dallas owner’s latest fine brings his tenure’s total to $2,465,000 — before a pending investigation into employee misconduct.
On NBA's fine for his "tanking" comments to Julius Erving, Cuban tells me: "Dr. J is my childhood idol. I got caught up fanboying him and said the wrong thing in the wrong way." https://t.co/HbhaV674gZ
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) February 21, 2018
The tanking bit isn’t all that different from what Cuban has said before. “The Mavs, once were eliminated from the playoffs, we did everything possible to lose games,” he told Dan Patrick in May. When they started this season with a 2-10 record, Cuban said they wouldn’t tank “until we’re eliminated,” and while his team hasn’t been put out of its misery yet, any hope of the playoffs is shot.
We know tanking takes place, but do we like this level of transparency about it? Silver doesn’t.
“It’s not what you want to hear as commissioner,” Silver said from the NBA’s Board of Governors meeting this past July. “I will say that Mark has a long track record of being provocative, and it was something that we spoke to him directly about. I think he acknowledged it was a poor choice of words. When we looked at what was actually happening on the floor, which is most important to me, there was no indication whatsoever that his players were intentionally losing games. And so we were satisfied with that, and again, and we moved on.”
Players do not submarine games. From pride to potential earning power, there’s too much at stake. But an owner, and by extension his front office and coaching staff, can undoubtedly tank a season.
Until late last month, when the Mavs beat the Washington Wizards to win their 16th game and move two wins ahead of the NBA’s bottom three teams, their seven-man rotation in the clutch was (in order of minutes played): Harrison Barnes, Wesley Matthews, Yogi Ferrell, Dennis Smith Jr., J.J. Barea, Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Powell. Since then, a span in which they finished 2-9 entering the All-Star break, that clutch rotation: Maxi Kleber, Ferrell, Salah Mejri, Smith, Matthews, Barnes and Doug McDermott.
Dallas also traded Devin Harris — the team’s backup point guard and best performer in terms of on/off net rating (they were 13.7 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court in 2017-18). In return, the Mavericks received McDermott, who is a restricted free agent at the end of the season.
Now, this can be (and usually is) spun into a renewed focus on building for the future and getting young players more experience in the clutch. Except, that’s difficult when the owner openly admits to tanking. That’s not necessarily an issue for those who understand this is just what happens at this point of the NBA season, but it most definitely is one for a commissioner trying to protect the integrity of the game in a league that could have as many as nine teams lighting the rest of this season on fire.
Of course, this is why the NBA enacted rules against resting players this season and reformed the lottery to level draft odds beginning in 2019. It remains to be seen whether that will have an impact next year, but if this is the beginning of the end for tanking, Cuban is making sure it’s a grand finale.
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