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Roundtable: Should the Mavericks be tanking hard or playing hard?

The Mavericks don’t seem to have gotten the tanking memo. Should the team try harder to lose or keep playing to win?

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at New York Knicks Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Since Mark Cuban was fined $600,000 for admitting the the Mavericks were tanking, the team has a .400 record and has won three of its last four games. Catching the Grizzlies and the Suns is probably out of the question, but given what’s at stake, we asked our staff: Do you think the Mavericks should (or could) be tanking harder? Would you rather the team earn a better chance at the No. 1 pick or establish a winning (or at least trying) culture for the younger players already on the roster?

Jordan (@Jbrodess): Do the Mavericks have the ability to tank harder? Yes. After the All-Star break they could have done what other bad teams have done and give very hard minutes restrictions to veteran players. Recently, guys like Maxi Kleber and Johnathan Motley have barely played, if at all. That’s a pretty easy, natural attempt at “tanking.”

The draft in many ways is still a crap shoot. But there’s no denying that by having a higher pick in the draft, you broaden the pool of top-tier talent available to you. Does it guarantee anything? No. But your odds are better at the very least.

The Mavs have been bad all season, losing games while trying valiantly to win. But it doesn’t seem like that has given worse habits to any young player on the roster. Giving more opportunity to those young players would, in effect, tank more games. And if the culture of the vets and staff that are already around doesn’t set the example these young players need, then the Mavs have more problems than we think.

An objection raised by some is that they may just continue drafting role and starter-level players and no stars, but at least they’d be building a solid, young, cheap core. And THAT’S when it’s worth going to free agency to find a star. At that point, you’d have a core that is attractive to someone who wants a move and new opportunity in their prime.

Kirk (@kirkseriousface): There’s always things they *could* do to tank harder. Maxi Kleber isn’t playing at all and neither is Motley. But past playing guys out of position or putting Dennis Smith Jr. on ice, there’s not much they can do to be worse. I made the joke that Wesley Matthews getting hurt was an anti-tanking move because a lot of line ups with he and Barnes were simply terrible and now they don’t have that option anymore. The team seems to have a higher floor than most of the other tanking teams.

In terms of the second question, I want them to have the best chance possible at assembling the best team possible. While I subscribe to the idea that there are good players to be found throughout the draft, this year’s talent pool has clear and defining tiers of talent and NBA fit that last year’s group did not (and was one reason why Dennis slipped to ninth). The Mavericks will regret for years not getting a chance a top-flight talent like DeAndre Ayton or Luka Doncic. This notion that it creates a bad locker room culture is a cop out because teams turnover more than half the roster year in and out. Unless Dallas is not confident in the coaching and front office leadership, this is an excuse for why they seem unwilling to invest in the tank.

Finally, there is just one young player on the roster who matters past this season: Dennis Smith Jr. Others like Harrison Barnes and Dwight Powell are not young. So unless the Mavericks are worried entirely about their point guard, locker room culture is a thing that matters far less than getting more young and talented players.

Sam (@SamGuertler): I absolutely think the Mavericks could be tanking “harder.” Like Jordan said above, minute restrictions could be placed on some of the veterans. Does J.J. Barea absolutely need to play 24 minutes a night, as he has since February 20? The team could also strategically sit players. Take the Memphis Grizzlies and Marc Gasol for example. He’s sat out three games since the All-Star break, two of those games were against the Orlando Magic and the Mavs. The Grizzlies obviously lost both.

As far as the best lottery odds versus setting a culture idea, I’m all about the best lottery odds. We’ve mentioned it before, but if the presence of Dirk Nowitzki and Rick Carlisle aren’t enough to keep your team culture from sinking, then there are big issues. Also, what does notching the 22nd win of the 2017-18 do for the franchise in the long run compared to potentially having a top-three selection in the draft? Obviously, you can’t guarantee anything, but that doesn’t mean you disregard the idea of giving yourself the best chance to succeed. The Mavericks are multiple pieces away from contending again, and by the time those pieces are acquired, the majority of these players will either be gone or relegated to spot duty.