Mark Cuban explains Mavericks’ plan, repeatedly uses word ‘tanking’

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The Mavericks trading Andrew Bogut was primarily about acquiring Nerlens Noel‘s matching and Bird Rights, but that deal had greater complexities. Let’s put it aside for a moment.

Dallas also waived its starting point guard, Deron Williams. That transaction is far more simple, with no return coming to the Mavericks.

Why would they do that?

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“The goal always is to get to be a championship contender and get another ring,” Cuban said Sunday on ESPN Radio’s NBA Insiders show, his first extended public comments on the Mavs’ latest personnel decisions. “As well as Deron was playing and even Andrew, defensively … we had to match up to our criteria of trying to position ourselves to get a lot better. Then you combine that with the fact that I’ve always said, when a lot of teams are tanking, you don’t want to tank. And when there aren’t many teams tanking and everybody’s trying to compete, that’s the best time to consider trying to go for a draft pick. You can try to play as well as you can and still be in competition for a great pick.

“We obviously haven’t played well enough to be in the playoffs right now, but we’re playing a lot better. One loss here and there, we’re all the sudden in the top five for draft contention, but we’re also playing to get better and trying to win, which I think is a good thing.”

“It’s painful, but I’m also realistic,” Cuban said. “Look, if I wasn’t realistic about the value of a draft pick, we would have kept D-Will, we would have kept Andrew. We would be playing an older lineup, but now we’re playing our young guys.

“That supposedly is the definition of tanking: You play your youngest players to give them experience without the expectation you’re going to win. In our case, we’re playing our youngest players, but we’re playing them with the expectation that they’re going to win. I think that’s the best type of experience. And if that means we get the eighth pick or the 10th pick instead of the fourth pick, I’ll live with the consequences.”

I define “tanking” as any decision a team makes that is at least partially driven by a desire to improve draft position by losing more. It doesn’t matter how much or little draft position factors into the decision. As long as a desire to lose more is part of the equation, it’s tanking.

Even if the draft order weren’t tied to record, losing teams would still emphasize developing young players late in the season. But because draft order is tied to record, losing teams give more more opportunities to raw players than they would otherwise.

So, there are obviously degrees. Some teams tank harder than others.

But, by my definition, Dallas is obviously tanking. Cuban admits waiving Williams and trading Bogut was about improving the draft pick.

The Mavericks could tank harder by having Rick Carlisle use a substandard game plan or establishing a culture where players realize winning isn’t important right now.

Dallas isn’t going that far, for both philosophical and practical reasons.

It can be hard to reverse a losing environment, and teaching winning habits to young players is important. Plus, there are limits on how far a roster with veterans like Harrison BarnesWesley Matthews and Dirk Nowitzki can sink.

That has the 24-36 Mavericks caught in the middle — 3.5 games out of playoff position and 5.5 games from a top-three seed in the lottery.

Reaching the postseason is impractical, so trying to move up a few spots in the draft is probably Dallas’ best approach. Maybe the Mavericks should have embraced that plan when they were closer to the bottom of the standings, but it seems Cuban has them on the right track now.

Watch Dinwiddie get ejected for elbow to Poole’s face; Mavs still win behind Doncic 41 points

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Dallas has gotten in trouble this season because of a lack of secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, so when Spencer Dinwiddie got ejected for an elbow to the face of Golden State’s Jordan Poole, it seemed like the Mavericks might be in danger of falling to the Warriors.

Doncic had other plans — and a 41-point triple-double.

The ejection happened early in the fourth quarter, when Dinwiddie drove the lane on Poole and, bringing the ball up, elbowed Poole in the face.

That was reviewed by the referees who ruled it a Flagrant 2. The league has cracked down on blows to the face and head — intentional or not — the past couple of seasons.

Dinwiddie being out just meant more Luka — and that was bad news for the Warriors.

Despite Doncic and his triple-double, the Warriors had a couple of chances in the final seconds. First, Stephen Curry got called for a travel.

The Warriors argued that call but got nowhere with the referees. But they got one more chance on a Klay Thompson 3 to tie, but it was just not their night.

The Mavericks got the 116-113 win. Tim Hardaway Jr. pitched in 25 points, including five 3-pointers for Dallas. Curry led the Warriors with 32.

Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns out 4-6 weeks with calf strain

Minnesota Timberwolves v Washington Wizards
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It’s not good news, but it looked like it could have been much worse.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is out for weeks with a right calf strain, the team announced Tuesday following an MRI exam. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports it is likely 4-6 weeks.

The injury occurred midway through the third quarter Monday when Towns started to run back upcourt and went to the ground without contact, grabbing his knee and calf. It looked scary — Achilles scary — and he had to be helped off the court.

Towns has averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are down this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers — the team has struggled at times without him, particularly lineups with Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards together, an -11.8 net rating (in non-garbage time minutes, via Cleaning the Glass).

Kevin Durant on chasing MVP: ‘Not really, I’ve been there, done that’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets
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Kevin Durant carried the Nets to another win Monday night, scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists.

If you’re having an MVP conversation a quarter of the way into the NBA season, Durant has to be part of it: 30 points per game on 54.8% shooting (and a ridiculous 65.9 true shooting percentage), 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, plus playing solid defense and being the anchor of the Nets. After his 45-point outing to get Brooklyn a win over Orlando, Durant was asked about MVP chants and the chase for the award and was clearly not interested.

Durant has MVP numbers, but so do Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others. If Durant is going to move to the front of the conversation, the first thing that has to happen is Brooklyn has to win a lot more games — 11-11 is not going to cut it when Tatum’s Celtics and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have the two best records in the NBA. Winning games and finishing on a top-three team in the conference matters to some voters (and traditionally is one measure of an MVP).

Watch Herb Jones inbound off Pokusevski’s back, seal win for Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
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With 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Thunder down 2, they needed to steal the inbounds pass from New Orleans to have a real chance. That’s why when Aleksej Pokusevski walked on the court it looked like he was going to guard the inbounder, Herbert Jones.

Instead, Pokusevski turned his back to Jones, putting himself in position to step in front of anyone cutting to the ball to catch the inbounds. Except, Jones made the clever play to seal the game.

Pokusevski fouled Jones, who sank both free throws and sealed the 105-101 Pelicans win.

The Pelicans got 23-8-8 from Zion Williamson and picked up a win without CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram in the lineup. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his dominant start to the season and scored 31.