Dirk Nowitzki and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban do not see eye to eye on the subject of tanking.
To be fair, Cuban has never been an open proponent of bottoming out either. That is, until this season. His Mavericks are contending for one of the three worst records in the NBA, and he told Julius Erving on an episode of the House Call with Dr. J podcast that he admitted to his players it was in the team’s best interest to keep losing games. He also promised this would be a one-year tank, not a seasons-long process. He was then fined $600,000 by the league for comments detrimental to its practice.
Nowitzki, a Mavs lifer, doesn’t share Cuban’s sentiments—not this year, not ever. From ESPN.com’s Tim MacMahon:
“You don’t really want a culture here that’s just giving up and quitting and not playing hard,” Nowitzki said after Monday’s 109-103 win over the Indiana Pacers. “I think it just sets the wrong tone for the future.
“I think it’s important for our young guys to learn how to compete and to compete all the time, play hard. You play your minutes hard. That’s the only way to get better. That’s the only way to play in this league, and whatever happens after the season, we’ll just go from there. But for now, you play your minutes hard and you play to win.”
Dirk’s comments make sense in a vacuum. But he’s also 39 and nearing retirement, if not this year, then next. He isn’t going to have the big picture at the forefront of his mind. He cares more about the now. That’s fine. It’s natural. He’s done a great job going along for the Mavericks’ rebuilding ride despite spending his twilight on a non-contender. He’s entitled to hold this opinion. And, again, he isn’t necessarily wrong.
But the current lottery system—which will be reformatted for 2019—rewards teams for having the worst records. If you’re not going to contend for a playoff spot, it behooves you to chase a higher draft pick and the superior odds of landing a franchise cornerstone that come with it. Worrying about how losing impacts the younger players has to be secondary to that sometimes. That’s why you have coaches and veterans and various other personnel in place: to help the youth weather the storm of losing.
Besides which, the Mavericks are not the Philadelphia 76ers under Sam Hinkie. They’re not gearing up for a serial tank. Nor are they the Sacramento Kings. They’re not going to organically suck for decades. This is a one-year push for them, and their rebuild, overall, has been more circumstantial than incidental. Plus, their willingness to lose games has actually created more playing time for the kiddies. So while Dirk isn’t wrong, he isn’t 100 percent correct either. Opportunity is often borne from tank jobs. Dallas’ situation represents one of those instances.