Read Andy's argument that tanking is a terrible idea here.
We of the Mavs Moneyball staff have had some intense, educational, and fantastic debates over what Dallas should or could do, given that this season was almost certainly not going to be a championship season. I took the position early, soon after Dirk's knee surgery, that Dallas was going to have a horrible year and might as well embrace the suck.
Of course, my colleagues were less than swayed by my logic. After all, on paper, Dallas had some real potential. But Dallas is now 13-20. Dirk looks much better, and seeing Mayo and Collison start to get it is exciting, but is it good enough for the playoffs? If so, what's the point of making the playoffs only to get swept again? We're 12th in the West right now. That's not good.
Why did I embrace the concept of tanking so early? It's not just because I'm a Negative Nancy (though I am). In the spring of 2011, when Dallas was still getting its act together, owner Mark Cuban spoke at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference and the Truehoop analysis of what he said has stuck with me. Cuban basically said that after Dirk retires, he expected Dallas to lose badly in order to get a chance at a high draft pick.
Timothy Varner of 48 Minutes of Hell writes
"There is no championship future for a middling team that is stuck in the embattled space between those who struggle to make the playoffs and those that struggle and miss. Cuban has no desire for the Mavericks to be such a team."
Read that statement a couple of times. Does that sound like a team we know and love? Last year Dallas was a seven seed, but just barely made it ahead of the Rockets and Suns who were 9th and 10th in the west respectively. This year, the Mavericks are likely to miss the playoffs. And even if they do make it, what's the point? Whether we all want to admit it or not, since the Championship, the Mavericks have been chugging along on the mediocrity treadmill.
Losing games now, getting a high draft pick, and using it on a player or using it as a trade asset is the best way for Dallas to reload quickly, because the plan to bring in a big name free agent like Chris Paul or Dwight Howard has likely failed (though I hope I'm wrong). If you think this is a silly idea, please see the 2003-2004 Washington Wizards, who flipped their 5th overall pick in the 2004 draft, Jerry Stackhouse, and Christian Laettner to the Mavericks for Antawn Jamison. They went from the 3rd worst team in the league in 2004 to the 5th seed in the east in 2005. That trade worked well for both teams, since Jamison didn't want to come off the bench.
The other option is to try to make the playoffs, possibly succeed, lose the top 20 protected pick sent to LA (and then to Houston) in the Odom deal, and have one less asset in free agency when looking to sign new players. That all happens after getting swept in the playoffs too, because that's nearly a given.
Look, guys, the world has changed. When Cuban bought the team, he solved nearly every personnel problem by throwing money at it, often creating new and different problems in the process (I see you, Matt Carroll). Alan Smithee likes to say the 2011 Championship team was horrible process with excellent results. I agree. That team had a salary of nearly $87 million dollars (that does not include luxury tax penalties). That's not something you can replicate and Cuban won't do that any more because overspending results in flexibility penalties from the new Collective Bargaining agreement.
As a result, front offices have to get smarter. Dallas tried this year after swing and missing on Deron Williams, but it hasn't worked out due mostly to Dirk's injury. Had he not gotten hurt, this team would be a 7-8 seed now,hoping not to fall out of the playoffs. The front office also has to get much much better at drafting. Drafting terribly can no longer be papered over by expensive free agent signings.
But I'm getting a little off topic. If Dallas wants to win next year, it needs to lose this year, then use the result of that asset in an intelligent fashion. Cap space, a good draft pick, and Dirk Nowitzki is a recipe for something very, very interesting.
Of course, I should note that Dallas won't tank. Not on purpose anyhow. Too many vets, too much pride, and a lot of interest in seeing how much Mayo and Collison can grow. I think we may get there by accident, just because the team isn't great and the rest of the West is pretty darn good.
I hope you enjoyed today's Moneybrawl! See you tomorrow for the Mavericks-Hornets/Pelicans game!