Gil LeBreton

Cuban’s ‘tanking’ wasn’t quite the confession that some wished

It’s called click bait, and Mark Cuban helped cast the hook.

Maybe I’m too old-school, but I thought the strategy of “tanking” games revolved around a deliberate attempt to lose.

An intentional air ball, for example. A willful fumble inside the 10-yard line. That kind of stuff.

Playing your rookies and young guys after you’ve been eliminated from playoff contention?

Yawn. That should be every responsible team’s game plan after it realizes it won’t be playing in the postseason.

Losing teams should be looking ahead to the next season, not dragging out the same tired bodies that got them all those losses.

But when Dallas Mavericks owner Cuban tried to answer a question about the NBA Draft Lottery on the Dan Patrick Show Wednesday, the click bait headline writers and sofa-bloggers pounced.

The headline on the Patrick radio show’s own website read, Mark Cuban admits Mavs tanked this season.

Click bait.

But it was Cuban who made it sound worse than it was. He was trying to point out the holes in Patrick’s endorsement of the so-called Gold Plan of determining a league’s draft order finish. In Patrick’s plan, teams would be rewarded for victories accrued after they had been eliminated from playoff contention.

“The problem is,” Cuban answered, “if you know you’re in rebuild, then you tank super early so that you get eliminated from the playoffs early and get more ping-pong balls.”

The notable thing about that quote is that it’s the only time Cuban used the word “tank.”

Patrick responded:

“But I don’t know if you’re going to be that good that you’re gonna be winning games, if you’re not that good in the first place.”

“Well, no,” Cuban said, “I mean, it’s like, look – we all, the Mavs, once we were eliminated from the playoffs, we did everything possible to lose games.”

Cuban continued by comparing that scenario to the option of being rewarded for being eliminated early.

“How did you tank?” Patrick asked.

“Play all our young players,” Cuban said.

Patrick responded, “OK. That was it? But did you send out a memo or did you just say . . . ?”

“No, no,” Cuban said, “because once a guy walks out on the court, they’re going to play their heart out, particularly the young guys because they’ve got something to prove.

“So Dorian Finney-Smith, Yogi Ferrell -- there’s nothing you can say or do to them to say, ‘Don’t play hard’ or ‘Try to lose this game.’

“That wouldn’t be right, and I don’t think any NBA team would ever do that.”

Those were Cuban’s exact words. But to read the headlines and hear the radio discussions Wednesday, you’d think Patrick finally coaxed a confession out of Bill Fitch.  

Fitch is roundly viewed as the godfather of the NBA Lottery, since it was his 1984 Houston Rockets that suspiciously cratered down the stretch (losing 14 of their final 17) and were rewarded by making Hakeem Olajuwon the No. 1 draft pick. The NBA instituted the lottery the very next year.

There is tanking, though, and there is “tanking.” While Cuban said his team did “everything possible” to lose games, he watered down the remark by saying the Mavericks’ way was to play young players.

Yawn. Every losing team plays its young players.

I doubt Cuban will be fined, not once the league hears the entire interview. But as an NBA owner, TV star and even possible future presidential candidate, Cuban should know his words feed headlines.

He was talking about ping-pong balls, not rigging game outcomes.

Maybe I’m too old-school to see what was so wrong.

Gil LeBreton: @gilebreton

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