Around the start of 2013, Andy and I had a lively discussion on the value of tanking (you can reacquaint yourself with my old argument here, if you desire). At the time, Dallas was 7 games below .500 at 13-20, Dirk was looking like crap, and the team was a steaming pile of boring. They were the kind of bad that isn't even fun to watch or talk about. They were irrelevant.
Fast forward nearly two months. Dallas is 5 games under .500 at 25-30. They've played twenty-two games and made up 2 games. With 27 remaining, the likelihood of making up anymore ground is ridiculously small. In fact, the good people here at SB Nation took a look at the chances of everyone in the West...
It's as if the Basketball Gods want us to fully expunge the Blazers and Mavericks from our concern. Dallas has 14 home games remaining... and 11 come against playoff teams or the Lakers. We project the Mavericks to go 13-14 on the way out for a 38-44 record.
19 of the next 27 Dallas opponents have records above .500. Even factoring in Dirk's quality play as of late, Dallas doesn't have what it takes to make the playoffs. Hollinger's playoff odds have Dallas at 10%. This isn't me being a jerk, this is me looking at the probabilities and saying it's not worth winning games anymore.
A 38-44 record puts Dallas out of the lottery. It's no-man's land for drafting. What is the point of that?
I listened to the arguments last time I posted this when Dallas had a chance. They made sense; there nearly two thirds of the season remained. Tanking was stupid then. It's not stupid now. But, in case you disagree with me, let's go one by one, with all the arguments I've heard.
1. Dallas has built a culture of success. Tanking sends a bad message to any potential free agents.
Dallas has made the playoffs every year since 2001. They've been to two finals, winning one. One bad year does not erase all of the excellent brand recognition that Dallas has built up since Mark Cuban purchased the team.
2. The team should keep trying to win games so certain players can continue to build up trade value.
This specifically has to do with Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo and any other younger talent that Dallas has. Let's just put it this way, if these guys were worth a bounty in free agency, Dallas would have played better and won more games than they currently have. I like all of these younger players, but each is really limited. Collison is not a top 15 point guard. O.J. Mayo has tons of talent, but he's regressed to the mean as the year has progressed. Brendan Wright is a lot of fun, but can't play more than 20 minutes a night. Any value they have isn't going to disappear if Dallas loses 20 games instead of the 14 they are predicted to.
3. This draft is historically weak.
Ugh, I hate this argument so much. It's a reflexive one made by people because they hear it on TV or read stories about it. There is always value in a draft. What I predict happening, if Dallas keeps on this current course of mediocre, is that the player the front office targets during pre-draft scouting goes off the board 2-3 picks before Dallas selects. Now you tell me, is winning 2-5 games now more worth potentially losing out on a player that could help for years? Michael Carter-Williams, Alex Poythress, Trey Burke... these are guys that could help Dallas right now.
4. Dallas needs a veteran star though, not a draft pick.
Valid argeument. But as I explained in January, Dallas does not have to keep it's pick. A trade to another team for a veteran is always a possibility. Draft selections are incredibly valuable under the new collective bargaining agreement. And, due to math, the 12th selection is more valuable than the 15th selection when talking trades. This front office drives me crazy, but it certainly is creative. I'd like them to have assets to work with.
5. Tanking destroys the competitive nature of players.
What? That is not a thing. Sorry.
6. Dallas can't draft well.
So true. I think if we look critically at the Dallas draft history since the 90's they started well with Jim Jackson, Jamal Mashburn, and Jason Kidd. Then came Dirk via trade in 1998. Then after that the next decent choice was Josh Howard in 2003. In 2004 the Mavs swung Antawn Jamison for Devin Harris, and after that... well... it's been ugly. That's close to a decade of futility (sorry Rodrigue Beaubois). The other side to this argument is that they've had bad luck since anything in the 20's is a crap shoot. That's true too. Simply put, I'd like the Mavs front office to have a chance with players of value still on the board.
7. It's important that the Mavericks continue to sell tickets right now.
This is short term thinking. Mark Cuban doesn't need the money. But if Dallas continues this slow slide to terrible, they are going to have a lot harder time filling seats down the road than right now.
8. The team won't quit, it's not who they are. (edited, added post publication)
Long-time community member BeachDrifter makes this point below. I need to clarify. I'm saying this is what Dallas SHOULD do, not what they will do. He's right in that Dallas will continue to struggle till they are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.
Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson are unable to admit failure in the short term, the team is going to suffer in the long term. The Dallas Mavericks have become know for taking chances that have low probabilities of success recently. Letting Tyson Chandler walk in an attempt to sign a mega-star is one example. Continuing to play as if they have a real chance to make the playoffs is another. Trying to win now will be destructive to the franchise in the long term. There is no debate on this. Having a "Goonies Never Say Die!" approach here is just stupid. This isn't a fairly tale.
The Dallas Mavericks have absolutely nothing to play for.
Bad luck (Dirk's injuries) and poor returns on free agent signings (hey there, every move since the title run) have resulted in two piss poor seasons in a row for Dallas. They have cap room this summer. They still have Dirk Nowitzki. A good draft pick, no matter how they use it, stands a better chance of helping the team long term than winning a few more games right now.