While the Dallas Mavericks will undoubtedly be rooting for Dennis Smith Jr. as he participates in the Rising Stars Challenge and Dunk Contest during All-Star weekend, the team itself has little to cheer about at the break. Dallas finds itself at the bottom of the standings—not just in the Western Conference but in the NBA— with a record of 18-40. Even though the team plays hard, notching wins is a seemingly futile endeavor. Because of that, some are arguing that the team should actively try to lose games rather than win.
It’s not a new notion. The draft lottery system awards the teams with the worst records higher picks. Those, in turn, can be used to select the perceived best talent. However, that doesn’t always pan out. Nonetheless, if a team is looking to build through the draft, common knowledge suggests the higher the pick the better the player. In recent years, though, the Philadelphia 76ers took the strategy to the extreme.
Under general manager Sam Hinkie, the Sixers instituted a policy of scorched-Earth tanking. In what became known as “the Process,” Hinkie gutted the roster and filled it with subpar talent in an effort to bottom out and land high draft picks. While the Sixers landed high lottery spots, their selections were a mixed bag. After spending three seasons in the NBA’s basement, Hinkie resigned in April 2016 during a front office shakeup. Now, though, Philadelphia is on the cusp of a potential playoff berth which has only magnified “the Process’” cult appeal.
Regardless, the jury is still out on whether teams should “trust the process” like the Sixers and embrace tanking. Yet, it’s normalization, both as reality and a joke, led some to believe that it’s a viable strategy to improve teams. While the NBA changed the odds of landing the No. 1 pick to discourage tanking, they still skew in favor of bad teams. That’s where the Mavericks come in.
With a losing record, how should the Mavericks approach the remainder of the season? Plenty of fans want to see them lose. They express this, on Twitter at least, by posting images and GIFs of tanks. Some of it is done ironically, but a lot of it is sincere. #TeamTank, as the sincere ones are called, bought in to the Sixers model. For his part, though, head coach Rick Carlisle doesn’t pay attention to those fans.
“I don’t think about things like that,” Carlisle said after Tuesday’s 114-109 loss to the Sacramento Kings. “Our job is to compete and we didn’t compete in the first half and that’s a problem. We’re coming out of the break playing on national TV at L.A, which is a big time game. We’re going to have to be a heck of a lot better than this.”
It’s a familiar sentiment. The Mavericks have stubbornly beat their competitive drum all season. While it may seem like nothing more than lip service to fans and the media, nothing is farther from the truth. The exasperation in Carlisle’s voice after talking about poor starts and inconsistent play speaks volumes, and the players’ sullen body language in the locker room after another tough loss isn’t an act.
The Mavericks aren’t going to roll over and play dead, but that doesn’t change reality. Dallas is a bottom feeder. It isn’t going to magically turn things around after the All-Star break and go 24-0 and compete for a playoff seed. Does that mean the only other option is playing to lose? Some think so, but they don’t have a say in the outcome of games. Carlisle does, though, and if you believe him, the team understands its situation.
“We have a strategy and an approach, and clearly if games are winnable—as we showed three nights ago—we’ll win them. I’m always a believer that if you have an approach and stick with it, things will happen the right way.”
Only time will tell where the Mavericks land on draft night. If things happen the right way, as Carlisle predicts, whoever they select may give them reason to cheer again.