For the moment, this column is a little out of date, and let's hope it stays that way. The Mavericks did lose to the Heat and once again plunged to seven games below .500, but I think the signs of life, particularly those from Dirk, were enough to make some people step back from the ledge. But not everyone. And so here it is:
It would be insane for the Mavericks to tank. And I don't care if you think the Mavs are going to miss the playoffs or not, it would still be insane.
You run into this a lot in life, actually. Be charitable, call it the indomitable will of the human spirit. Be uncharitable and say people watch too many movies. But there's the idea that somewhere-if one would only adopt an extreme enough course of action-there is a way out of this cave. There's a way off the island. There's a way to save everybody.
There's an easy trick to helping yourself, when you fall into one of those mental traps, an easy way to know that you have. I call it "Nearly Best Case Thinking". What you do is you think of what the best thing that's likely to happen-the best likely thing--- if you take an action is, and you decide if that works out. Should you do the crazy thing to escape the cave? Absolutely. The alternative is dying in a cave, and the best likely thing is to die trying, and that's good enough to justify the hope that there IS a way out you haven't seen. Why not?
Okay. Say the Mavs aren't going to make the playoffs this year. Say they're going to make the playoffs but lose in the first round, putting them on, as people have said, the "mediocrity treadmill". They don't want to be on that treadmill, so they should choose, instead of being a little good, to be bad, right?
Are you insane?
The Mavericks could have saved themselves a lot of trouble with NBCT already. The problem wasn't that it's impossible they could have landed some big fish in free agency, which would be best case thinking, it was very clearly that that it was nearly impossible. To make a bid they had to go down so low, money wise, they couldn't even draft a first round pick, trading Tyler Zeller, who has averaged 12-7 in the last seven games for three guys they can't play. They had to trade whatever small shreds of young talent they'd gotten, Jordan Hamilton, Corey Brewer, Rudy Fernandez, for basically nothing.
All to even to be able to make one bid to a guy, Deron Williams, who is not only having something of a rough year, but solves one of the Mavs three major problems. He doesn't protect the rim and he doesn't rebound. Not his fault, he's a PG. But he doesn't.
It wasn't that trying to get a big fish wasn't worth it. It's that trying as poorly as the Mavericks were able to was completely not worth it.
Here we are again.
Oh, there are several problems with this idea. For starters, the Mavs draft like studio execs pick the next reality show, it's weird and uncomfortable and does violence to the national intelligence. In the service of imagining that Dwight will get bored of LA or that Bynum would choose them over Philly, or that Chris Paul will get tired of throwing lobs to Blake Griffin, the Mavericks will trade the 9th pick for the 30th, 37th, 42nd and 43rd picks.
There's the problem of the effect it would have on their team if they did. Collison and Mayo may be pieces worth keeping, but they're at crucial stages in their development. They could really become something, they could become some part of the future here if the front office, if the fans, could just stop dreaming of FAs who have zero chance of coming here, or so small a chance as to be unreasonable, and try to rebuild a winning team the old fashioned way. You think those guys can just turn off trying to win each night and come back next year ready to improve? And you're pretty sure, are you, that OJ Mayo getting the chance to try to win and improve would not be as good a contributor to this team in the future as whatever 19 year old the Mavs terrible talent evaluators think could make a difference?
You think you can convince Dirk, who has given up so much and fought so hard for this franchise, that you don't want him try to win anymore? That sounds like a fun conversation. That ends in him demanding a trade or immediately packing his bag to Europe.
But all of that isn't even the most important reason this an extremely bad idea. The most important reason is using "Nearly Best Case Scenario" thinking, to step away from positive statements like "the worst thing is," and "mediocrity treadmill," and move on to critical thinking like "okay, sure, that's the worst thing, but what is the best thing, you gibbering parrot".
The most important reason that tanking is not a good idea is that it's very probably not going to help.
I mean, what is the nearly best case scenario here? How bad could the Mavericks possibly be? If the Mavericks try their hardest, finish 41-41 and in the 8th spot or just out of the playoffs, they'll get, say, the 15th pick.
If they tank, they'll finish what, 35-47? 33-49? What about Detroit last year who finished 25-41 last year, a winning percentage of 38%, equal to a 31-51 season. They drafted 9th. If the Mavericks suck as hard as they can, could they be worse than Detroit, Orlando, Toronto or Sacramento? 8- win Charlotte, 7-win New Orleans or Cleveland, 4-win Washington?
Most years, even drafting #1 doesn't change your franchise. You get the pick in a LeBron year, a Kyrie Irving year, an Anthony Davis year, great. You get it in a John Wall, Andrea Bargnani, or Andrew Bogut year it really doesn't. Even getting Blake Griffin doesn't help you that much without Chris Paul. You want to know how many #1 picks have won a title with the team that drafted them in the last decade? The math is easy on that one: zero.
But the Mavericks will not draft #1. If they tank, they will draft, say, 9th-11th. Last year, that would have gotten you Andre Drummond, Austin Rivers, or Meyers Leonard. In 2011, you could have had Jimmer Fredette, Klay Thompson or Alec Burks. In 2010, you could have had Gordon Hayward, Paul George or Cole Aldrich.
Sure, Thompson and George have turned into decent players. But come on. If you really, really think that missing a year of watching your team compete, even if it loses, is worth the chance of pairing Dirk with Meyers Leonard, I don't know what to tell you. I mean what do you think happens? The Mavericks tank and David Stern hands them LeBron?
You want to throw out words at me, "mediocrity treadmill"? "Worst thing you can do is?" I can read, and I've read them before. You know what neither of those sentences mean? That avoiding those things by being mediocrely bad is smart. Because it isn't. Not close. You don't get Lebron. You get Meyers Leonard.
This is another situation, just like the free agent snafus, where it's not that tanking to get a high pick is such a bad idea. It's that tanking as poorly as the Mavericks will be able to, pissing off Dirk in the process and probably forever stunting the development of OJ Mayo and Darren Collison, is a terrible idea. Even if this were the draft of 2003, which it isn't going to be. It does work, if you do it for a few years, like the 76ers did. It works every now and again when you get high enough on the draft board. It doesn't work, and can't work, when you get one #9 pick and expect it to fix your problems.
And archaeologists of a future era, having found buried scrolls in the rubble of what once was the AAC, will wonder how we got it so wrong. They'll say that, objectively, Houston seems to have been on the mediocrity treadmill for a bit, but it gave them enough talent to trade for exactly the kind of impact free agent the Mavs have repeatedly failed to get. They'll say that we seemed to be on it ourselves until we traded for Tyson Chandler--because mediocrity, unlike being terrible, can be one piece away.
They'll say that the teams that really tanked, the Bobcats and Hornets of the world, are so bad they're a half a decade from being good and will probably lose the guys they tanked to get before they get there, like the Cavs, Magic, and Hornets again before them.
And OJ Mayo, since he got to Dallas, has been trying to emulate Dirk Nowitzki's work out routine, going to the gym, alone and early, staying late, getting shots up, trying to become a leader, trying to become a go-to guy.
You're going to tell him, don't worry about any of that, OJ. Ease up. We're getting Meyers Leonard.