There has been tanking in the NBA this season, as there has been every season for more than a decade.
However, few have been more naked about it than the Mavericks were Friday night. On Tuesday Luka Dončić was saying he wanted to keep playing as long as there was a mathematical chance to make the play-in, and there was still one Friday night, but a win (against a Chicago team sitting all its stars) would have severely hurt Dallas’ chances of holding on to their pick (owed the Knicks but top-10 protected). So management pulled the plug at the last minute — Kyrie Irving, Josh Green, Tim Hardaway Jr., Maxi Kleber and Christian Wood all were out and Dončić played one quarter then was pulled (he only played that quarter because it was “I Feel Slovenia” night in the Dallas arena).
It was naked tanking — and it worked, the Bulls won, eliminating the Mavericks from the postseason and keeping Dallas in the top 10 in draft order.
It was a bad look for the league and the NBA, which is now investigating, NBA spokesman Mike Bass said.
“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.”
Other NBA teams have blatantly tanked, with the possible prize of Victor Wembanyama or Scoot Henderson making it particularly tempting this season. Portland pivoted a few weeks ago and sat Damian Lillard and its other name players to try and hold on to top-five lottery odds. Utah kept stripping the roster with trades (despite being in the play-in mix midseason). Charlotte pulled back as injuries changed their season. One could argue Detroit did 12 games into the season after Cade Cunningham was injured, or that San Antonio did before the season tipped off.
This happens on both ends of the spectrum — the Bucks, Celtics and 76ers are sitting their stars in games to rest them for a playoff run. That’s not good for the regular season product or fans who have tickets that night, but this has been a problem all season and it’s a little late to put the genie back in the bottle.
However, none of that was as sudden, or gave the league the black eye, that the Mavericks did. Even if trying to keep their pick was the right move for the organization (and it was), many people felt blindsided — including coach Jason Kidd, who was clearly unhappy about it as he discussed the plan in his pregame press conference. Owner Mark Cuban spoke to the media on Wednesday and did not mention this possibility. This was a decision that could have been made weeks ago, but it wasn’t. It caught everyone off guard, including the league office.
Whether they do anything about it will be another question.