The conversation between Dr. J and Mark Cuban started with Cuban’s upbringing, his time in Pittsburgh, random references to ABA teams Cuban saw, and a weird story about Cuban having on his desk a picture of the two of them in which Dr. J was unaware the photo was being taken and facing away from Cuban. But when Dr. J referenced Cuban being a “players’ owner,” the outspokenness emerged, and Cuban revealed something that he definitely wanted everyone to know:
While nobody is perfect, no coach is perfect, no organization is perfect, I try to be really transparent. I’m probably not supposed to say this, but I just had dinner with a bunch of our guys the other night.
Here we are, not competing for the playoffs and I said, ‘Look, losing is our best option.’ They hated hearing that, but at least I sat down and I explained it to them. I explained what our plans were going to be this summer, that we’re not going to tank again. This is like a year and a half of tanking and that was too brutal for me.
Being transparent, that’s the key to being a quote-unquote players’ owner. We want the players to understand. As a player, even though you might not agree, at least if you respect the fact that someone took the time to talk to you and you understood their perspective, you’re going to give me your feedback but you’re part of the process.
Transparency when dealing with a team and a front office is one thing, but this statement in this format at this time is a calculated move by a savvy public figure.
Whenever Cuban says, “I’m probably not supposed to say this,” there should be a cue for the dramatic music to start in the background. He should just carry around a bluetooth speaker. But whether he should have said it or not, what he was “not supposed to say” was very revealing of Mavericks plans.
Unless “The Process: The Overtold Story of Sam Hinkie & Joel Embiid” ever hits theaters, then “losing is our best option” would probably never be a line in a sports movie. It’s just not a narrative that excites the masses (unless you’re a rabid fan of Rights to Ricky Sanchez).
However, that’s the situation the Mavs find themselves in. They’re on pace to have the seventh worst record in franchise history. If you think this season is tough, three of those years Dallas didn’t even crack 16 wins. Imagine (some of you don’t have to) being a Mavericks fan in 1992-93 when the club lost 71 games in an 82-game season, and two of their wins came in the final two games of the year.
This season, the Mavericks are obviously rebuilding. This is the second season in a row that Mark Cuban has admitted that the Mavericks are tanking. Last year it came on February 14, when Cuban appeared on the Ben & Skin show on 105.3 The Fan and flat out exclaimed, “We are tanking! We are tanking, people don’t get it, we’re playing our youngs. How do you tank? You play your young players. Who are we not playing? Maybe not [Nicolas Brussino].”
At that point last season, the Mavericks were 22-33 and had the eighth worst record in the league. This season, the Mavericks are 18-40 with the third worst record in the league—these Mavs are in much worse shape. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the whole tanking song and dance has started again.
The fact that Cuban admitted to actually discussing this with his staff and possibly even the players (“our guys” is rather vague) feels a little different, but these talks had to have happened last year. When Dwight Powell and Brussino start showing up in the starting lineup, it’s reasonable to assume that there was a discussion.
This franchise, as currently constructed, has never done this before. In the five years right before the Mavericks were sold, they had the fifth worst record in the NBA. It’s not normal for a team to be sold on the verge of having it’s best team in franchise history. But since 2000, when Cuban bought the team, the Mavericks have the second-best regular-season record (yeah, still) in the league.
All over the NBA, front office executives are discussed as units, sometimes even receiving cute couple nicknames. The regime of Cuban/Nelson/Carlisle (file a claim today!) has seen only success up until last season. Navigating a rebuild is difficult for a team and a business, but the hardest part is finding a way out. The Orlando Magic have been rebuilding since 2011, the Kings haven’t had a winning season since 2006, and the Suns still haven’t recovered since trading Steve Nash in 2012.
As a franchise, the Mavericks are starting at a much more stable point than those teams, and Cuban thinks that after this season the Mavericks have to be ready to stick the landing: “I explained what our plans were going to be this summer, that we’re not going to tank again.”
That statement doesn’t mean the Mavericks need to have a playoff contending team by October 2018, nor does it mean they insist on landing a “big fish” this summer, but the declaration does set a precedent.
After years of success, a few years of mediocrity, and then just two years of awful basketball, Cuban thinks the Mavericks will have enough building blocks for the foundation of the team’s next era.
Whether they do or not is a bigger question, but for now, the owner of the Mavericks told us that they have been bad, they’re going to continue to be bad for 24 more games, and then that’s enough of that.