Mavs Donuts: The Trouble With Tanking
DONUT 1: A FIRST EXPLORATION INTO TANKING ...
It was 2007. Michael Irvin, Mark Cuban and myself (Fish) were working together on a radio show. And the owner of the Dallas Mavericks was very open with his thoughts on "tanking'' -- that is, losing on purpose in order to help his franchise in its future draft position.
Cuban and I (Fish) broached the subject. And then Irvin tried to politely un-push: "I can dance with you all day right there,'' Michael said, "but it sounds like you're saying I'd rather just tank a couple games, but I won't even go there Mark, let's move on."
The always frank Tony Cubes saw no reason to pull back.
"I'll be the first to admit, Michael, I would tank a lot of games," Cuban said.
Irvin: "You would tank games? Mark wait, you would tank games to get the first pick in the draft?"
Cuban: "Yes, yes see it depends on where you are."
DONUT 2: THE TREADMILL OF MEDIOCRITY ...
From there came the now standard Cuban concept of avoiding "The Treadmill of Mediocrity,'' being a team that annually wins 40 or so games, making it never quite good enough to be good and never quite bad enough to use the draft to get better.
This year's Mavs have no intention of tanking. At least not yet. In fact, the Triangle of Trust has no intention of doing anything at all drastic until it experiences a MavsWorld with Dirk Nowitzki as the axis of it.
That's the case even as Rick Carlisle makes concessions to reality (review here) such as, "I think we would be viewed as we're not very good,'' and "I'm such a positive guy that the thing that I'll say is that in recent days we're setting ourselves up for 'Most Improved,'" and "We're rebuilding a championship team, yes," Carlisle said. "The statement is, 'We're rebuilding a championship team.''
DONUT 3: THE CANCER OF TANKING ...
We've always contended that losing on purpose brings with it some "cancerous'' byproducts. Do the players on the existing roster put out at all when they know the organization doesn't really want to win? Does losing make losers? Isn't the idea almost unethical, the antithesis of what sports is all about?
But we watch Andrew Luck join the Colts, creating such a smooth one-year-tank transition from the Peyton Manning Era in Indy, and we wonder ...
DONUT 4: AND WE LOOK BACK TO THE SPURS ...
The 1990s Spurs featured David Robinson and were always pretty good. Never a titlist ... but good.
SA started the '97 season with a 3-3 record and then a Robinson injury. The skid continued, to 3-15, Pop took over as coach, and the Spurs gave up the year.
Why? Because there was a pot of gold under that losing rainbow.
DONUT 5: LUCKY SOBs ...
Notably, San Antonio didn't have the worst record in that 1996-97 season. They actually had the third worst record in the league behind Vancouver and Boston. ... therefore, rightfully, the ping-pong balls should've never bounced their way.
By the odds, Duncan should have been the centerpiece of the next Celtics dynasty. The Celts had the best chance at the No. 1 pick. Vancouver was ineligible for the overall No.1, so the Spurs had the second-best chance.
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DONUT 7: WAS IT ETHICAL? ...
The Spurs were a perennial 50-win elite team trying to win titles, and took a season off in hopes of landing Duncan. This season, we've seen commissioner David Stern punish the very same franchise for doing something similar, sending Duncan and his fellow stars home from a game against Miami rather than bother using them up in a nationally televised game.
What makes one "tank'' different than another?
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DONUT 9: COULD YOU IMAGINE ...
Boston probably also tanked a bit, but they were genuinely and consistently mediocre in those days. In the three seasons prior, the Celtics stayed around 11th in the East with about 33 wins per season. ... in other words, they were on "The Treadmill of Mediocrity.''
Oh, how Duncan might have changed all that in Boston! And oh, how much different might Dallas' pursuit of success in the Southwest Conference have been without Duncan as the obstacle!
DONUT 10: THIS YEAR ISN'T THAT YEAR ...
Another issue to consider here: There's a franchise-changer who comes out of college about once every half-decade, on average.
The last 20-plus years have featured four. (Shaq in 1993, Duncan in 1997, LeBron in 2003 and Howard in 2004). You can take it back even beyond this group and the average doesn't really change in terms of how often one of those highly-awaited expected franchise-changers hits the NBA, going all the way back to Kareem in 1969.
It can be argued that but for injuries, Yao in 2002 and Oden in 2007 would also have been franchise-changers, and were drafted with the expectation that they were of that caliber. But injuries and screw-ups and busts are a part of this.
Tim Duncan was worth sucking for. As a rookie, Duncan played all 82 games and ate up 39 minutes per while averaging 21.1 points, 11.9 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 2.7 assists while shooting 54.9 percent.
Does the 2013 draft class include a Duncan? Every expert says "no.''
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DONUT 12: THE FINAL WORD
There is time to judge whether the Mavs must be buyers or sellers at the Feb. 21 trade deadline. "Buyers'' or "sellers'' ... "builders'' with O.J. Mayo or something else ...
But the judgment on "tanking'' has already been made. This team might win only 40 this year (or fewer?!), but that doesn't translate to being on a "Treadmill of Mediocrity''; one year does not a treadmill make.
Cuban and the Mavs are new to this. This club has never been a loser in the full-time ownership Cuban Era, the 50-wins roll being a very special thing.
It will be imperative for the organization to be honest with itself about its existing talent and its "Plan Powder'' opportunities. They need to find a way to get better ... and are trying to do it without purposely being lousy.