NBA spokesman Mike Bass stated, “The NBA commenced an investigation today into the facts and circumstances surrounding the Dallas Mavericks’ roster decisions and game conduct with respect to last night’s Chicago Bulls-Mavericks game, including the motivations behind those actions.”
With the Mavs announcement early Friday morning that Kyrie Irving, Tim Hardaway Jr., Josh Green, Maxi Kleber, and Christian Wood would all sit out against the Bulls, eyebrows were raised across the NBA landscape - and in many cases - the clutching of pearls began.
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has not commented publicly on the decision to rest most of the Dallas rotation. After the game Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd was asked about waving the white flag. “It’s not so much waving the white flag,” Kidd said. “...decisions sometimes are hard in this business. We’re trying to build a championship team. With this decision, this is maybe a step back. But hopefully, it leads to going forward.”
The decision to investigate the Mavericks is clearly driven by optics. Teams have been making decisions with an eye to the future for years. The advent of the play-in tournament set the league on a collision course between a team facing the perfect storm of fringe contention for the last play-in spot and the juicier prospect of elevating lottery odds. In the case of this edition of the Dallas Mavericks, the drama was heightened by the top-10 protection placed on the 2023 pick via the last remaining item on the Kristaps Porzingis trade ledger.
Dallas brass faced the very real prospect of landing in basketball purgatory. A barren wasteland of an offseason with no postseason appearance to soften the sting of a disastrous season and no draft pick to utilize as roster-building capital. The decision to rest players like Irving, Kleber, and Hardaway Jr. could easily be attributed to legitimate injury recovery. Including Green and Wood alongside the early exit for Doncic removed any semblance of illusion as to the intent of this decision. The Mavericks were pragmatic and responded to their plight based on the incentive structure that the NBA has created - which leads to the only reason this investigation will occur - egg off the face of the NBA.
The Portland Trailblazers (and others) shut down players to improve their odds yet the NBA looks the other way. Teams pulling the plug with a month to go are not on the cusp of the play-in and can sell their choices as injury management and player development with a wink and a nudge.
The Mavericks season informed them that their roster lacks quality - especially on the defensive end. With a cupboard nearly barren and a cap sheet fraught with negative assets soaking up salary bandwidth, this decision was prudent and perhaps came a game or two too late. Dallas waited until they did not control their own destiny and any other choice would have been organization malpractice.
Despite resting nearly every rotation player, the Mavericks nearly won the game. McKinley Wright IV, AJ Lawson, and others did not get the memo and played hard until the horn sounded. This included a final possession with multiple looks at a game-tying three-point shot that would have extended the game and potentially cost Dallas the draft pick they were angling for.
Watching the last two minutes again and understanding the shifting fate that each make or miss had on the destiny of the Luka Doncic era is something I will never ever forget. Thank you for air balling AJ Lawson and thank you McKinley Wright IV for clanking off the side of the backboard - had either of you pulled off the miracle shot, Dallas may have been one step closer to losing the greatness of Luka Doncic in another year.