On Tuesday, Mark Cuban joined the Ben & Skin Show on 105.3 The Fan in-studio for a full hour1. Suffice it to say, the “renowned billionaire tech mogul and outspoken owner of the Dallas Mavericks” had a few things to say.
Ben Rogers2 probed Cuban about the Mavericks slow start saying at that point it was “a lost season.” Ben went on to describe his experience at the last few games and witnessing Dirk and the young talent competing every night. In the wake of the team’s recent success and competitiveness he stated, “you can’t Tank.” To which Cuban responded abruptly with an almost amused candor and uttered a phrase Mavs fans have been waiting for all season.
“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].”
Cuban went on to reveal what the Mavericks strategy would be this summer regarding free agency and their approach to the offseason.
“I don’t see us going after the big fish this summer. I think everything’s changing, you know, too much money to stay with your own team… Unless something falls in our lap, we’ll be opportunistic. I’d much rather be a team that has a ton of cap room going into the season. To take players off of people’s hands. If I’m below the salary floor then we’ll just pay that money to our existing players. That means everyone on the roster gets more.”
This is a stark contrast to the Mavs approach for the last few years when the were in fact “going after the big fish.” Whether that was Mike Conley & Hassan Whiteside, Dwight Howard, or even Deron Williams3, the Mavericks have taken big swings every summer and (with the exception of Harrison Barnes) have failed.
It’s odd that Mark Cuban chose this point in the season to finally admit that the team was Tanking because the Mavs have won 11 out of their last 17 games. Over that stretch, they boast the League’s 7th best Offensive Rating4, 4th best Defensive Rating5, and 3rd best Net Rating6. Many fans have been clamoring for the Mavericks to Tank because, as Ben put it the “reward for winning is getting the 8th seed and playing the Warriors.” Cuban swiftly responded with a long but thought-out response about experience, and the psychology of Tanking on a young team.
“The reward for winning is that all of our young guys get great experience. And they play in games that matter. Like last night’s game [vs Boston] mattered to us because we wanted to strive towards something and so you felt the pressure towards the end of the game. If you don’t care if you win there’s never that pressure and learning who can play and execute under pressure. You know when we were beating Cleveland or when we were beating Portland when we were winning these close games; when we’re beating the Spurs, those are meaningful games to our young guys.”
Cuban continued by commenting on the development of this team, “If you never think you have a chance to win, you never feel that pressure, it’s easy just to shoot when there’s nothing at stake it’s easy to play when there’s nothing at stake or when the other team kind of thinks ‘ok we can just turn it on at the end.’ You can’t do that with us anymore. Whether it’s DoDo [Dorian Finney-Smith] or [Yogi Ferrell] or even [Justin Anderson] or Nico all these guys are getting minutes at various times where it matters if you’re just ok we don’t care we’re trying to lose we’ll just make it close, guys know it. Right? Not only that and guys get upset and turn it off because if you’re tanking, someone’s gonna lose their job one of you or most of you aren’t good enough and so one or most of you are not going to keep your job. As you mentioned Skin most of the other teams in the Western Conference aren’t trying to Tank.”
It all makes sense. Undrafted players like DoDo or Yogi Ferrell are going to work their tails off because their job is on the line, and they have. In a sense, the success of the team directly correlates to their employment status. The same can’t be said for players who are under contract such as Wes Matthews and Harrison Barnes, but their effort hasn’t been in question all season. What we thought was the back end of the roster at certain points in the season has started to pull their weight on the team with the discovery of Yogi Ferrell, Seth Curry, and Dorian Finney-Smith. Cuban went on to explain the Mavericks struggles at the beginning of the season and how the identity the Mavs have accepted.
“Guys know that if you’re tanking, chances are it’s your job they’re coming to take, and if you’re going to need another job you’re not going to not play hard. But it’s just different because when you think you’re tanking you can be more selfish right you don’t have to play the right way, there’s not cohesiveness on the court. And really, that’s what hurt us at the beginning, as much as the injuries were bad, the fact that we couldn’t get an identity and we couldn’t get it any unity on the court hurt us because we didn’t know who we were. [Dirk Nowitzki] wasn’t there, [Andrew Bogut] wasn’t there7 D-Will wasn’t there, then [J.J. Barea], and [Devin Harris], so we tried to slow it down and that didn’t work. Once we opened it up we started getting better and better and better. And going into yesterday I think we were 3rd, over the previous 15 games, 3rd best offense and 6th best defense over those 15 games. That’s incredible when you think about it.”
It is incredible. The Mavericks began the season as one team8 and have morphed into a completely different one. At the start of the season, the Mavericks were trotting out two giant plodding seven footers in Dirk and Bogut and now are fielding a starting lineup where every single player is a threat to shoot from three-point range.
Mark Cuban would not admit to tanking during the Mavericks rough start to the season. Now the team has started to taste success and Cuban came right out and said what every wished he would have said months ago. Which sounds completely bizarre9, but the Mavericks definition of Tanking seems to have changed in the same way the team’s identity has altered. Tanking isn’t ‘trying to lose‘ for the Mavericks, it’s requiring much of inexperience. A strategy the Mavericks haven’t employed in decades. When inexperience starts to wear off, the team thrives. The Mavericks have attempted to skip that step in years past, but it was unavoidable this season, and it has turned out to be pretty incredible when you think about it.