Did The Shark Really Tank?

According to plenty of so-called NBA fans and basketball pundits, tonight is the night the Dallas Mavericks should have wanted to be playing a game.  Tonight’s play-in games feature teams that technically would not have qualified for any post-season action prior to 2021, and in New Orleans it will be the overjoyed and prematurely relevant Oklahoma City Thunder that will provide the opposition for the Pelicans, a roller coaster of a team that will indeed not have Zion Williamson at their disposal.  The winner gets the chance to take on an equally injury and emotionally impacted foe in the Minnesota Timberwolves, and that game’s winner then actually gets into the official NBA playoffs for a seven-game series with the top-seeded Denver Nuggets, who have won exactly zero NBA championships.

Mark Cuban apparently decided last week that little of that matters.  And, with that, as Front Office Sports summarily reported earlier this week, has set off a polarized flurry of opinion pieces that has traditionalists both crying foul and demanding action against the team and more objective observers taking on equally Impassioned alternative views.

In the “off with his head” category:

The Mavericks missed the postseason after finishing 38-44 a year after making the Western Conference Finals, making this the “worst season in the history” of the team, according to Mac Engel of the Ft. Worth STAR-TELEGRAM. Two months after completing an “all-in, go-for-it trade” to acquire G Kyrie Irving, the Mavericks “turned off the lights in the final week of the season.” Engel: “Seldom (never?) do you see a team that can make the playoffs try to avoid the playoffs. The Mavericks should be embarrassed.” The Mavericks offseason “began on Friday afternoon, when they made the decision to lose.” Engel asked does Mavericks owner Mark Cuban “know what he’s doing to prevent the most talented player he’s ever had from wanting to leave?” He has a “generational basketball talent on his roster” in G Luka Doncic and “unless significant upgrades are made he’s going to lose him.” Doncic is “not going to stick around to lose” (Ft. Worth STAR-TELEGRAM, 4/9). ESPN’s Hannah Storm said the Mavericks’ tanking “did not sit well” with Doncic and has “pushed Doncic perhaps to reconsider his future in Dallas.” Sources said that there is concern that Doncic’s “extreme frustration could lead him to asking for a trade by summer 2024 if the Mavs don’t make significant progress by then” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 4/8).


In Dallas, Tim Cowlishaw wrote the Mavericks made a “ridiculous organizational decision to basically sit all their best players” during Friday’s game against the Bulls. The decision was to “increase the club’s chances of keeping the 10th pick in the draft, a matter that will come down to the bounce of ping-pong balls next month.” Coach Jason Kidd “made it clear that he was not involved in the decision made Friday by” Cuban and GM Nico Harrison to “place draft-pick priority over playoff chances.” It is “not as though losing assures the Mavericks of keeping their pick.” There is “still about a 20 percent chance the pick will go to” the Knicks as part of the trade for F Kristaps Porzingis in 2019. The Mavericks are a “franchise that was a national laughing stock in the ‘90s, inadvertently chasing records for futility,” and the team has “surely had lower moments but fewer more embarrassing ones.” Regardless, the NBA will “not look kindly on the Mavs’ manipulation of the injury report where Irving went from probable to out and four others not mentioned in the original Friday report also suddenly were out with injuries and recovery needs” (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 4/7).

But in the “tough love” category:

THE ATHLETIC’s David Aldridge wrote the Mavericks were “inelegant in how it rolled out its obvious intention Friday.” The result was, “indeed, embarrassing for a team that made the Western Conference finals last season.” If one believes in the “efficacy of cold, hard numbers,” then what Cuban and Harrison “did in making sure the team took home an L isn’t only understandable, it should be, to you, best practice” (THE ATHLETIC, 4/9). In Las Vegas, Adam Hill wrote trying to tank was the “right decision, and it’s not particularly close.” The Mavericks organization “realizes the roster wasn’t going to do much in the postseason even if they did eke their way in.” That would “also likely mean falling out of the top 10 in the draft, which would automatically ship their pick to the Knicks.” The system is “set up to encourage” tanking, “at least to some degree.” What the leagues “don’t like, however, is when you publicly admit it,” and that was the “error of the Mavericks” (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 4/8).

You might have already guessed what side of this argument I come out on.

Pure and simple, Mark Cuban is likely smarter and richer than all of us.  He has made his fortune by being an informed and data-driven observer at the same time as he is an emotionally charged fan and supporter.  And  prior to Friday night, despite the Mavericks’ underperforming the enhanced expecations of this season based on last spring’s surprising surge to the Western Conference finals, he made the moves one would expect of someone who was determined to win.

Investing in Kyrie Irving at a time when the balance of the league, including the Brooklyn Nets that had previously supported him in spite of his views on vaccines and the Holocaust, left him open to castigation.  Filing a protest against the league when all evidence showed the Mavs’ crucial home loss to the Warriors was impacted by a confusing possession call by referee Andy Nagy was seen as desperate by all but the Mavs’ most ardent supporters.   When Irving led a spirited comeback last Wednesday night to keep the Mavs’ slim hopes alive against the newly-crowned Pacific Division champion Sacramento Kings, he was cheering as loudly as anyone in American Airlines Center.

But after reassessing the odds against them. as well as all of the other issues the myriad takes linked to above point out, Cuban decided make a responsible business decision.  Just like he did in the late 1990s with another business HE OWNED.

Oh, you weren’t around or of age then?  Thankfully, Wikipedia can quickly recap what he chose to do then:

Broadcast.com was an Internet radio company founded as AudioNet in September 1995 by Cameron Christopher Jaeb. Todd Wagner and Mark Cuban later led the organization and eventually sold to Yahoo! on April 1, 1999, for $5.7 billion, making it the most expensive acquisition Yahoo! has made.[1] 

In 1994, through a class that his girlfriend was taking, Jaeb was introduced to Todd Wagner, an attorney at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.[2] Wagner introduced Jaeb to Mark Cuban, who invested $10,000 in exchange for 2% of the company.[2] Cuban wanted to listen to the basketball games of his alma materIndiana University.[3] Cuban and Wagner worked out a deal whereby Jaeb would keep 10% of the company and would get a monthly salary of $2,500 but Cuban would take control of the company.[2] The company was renamed AudioNet.com in September 1995 in conjunction with the reorganization. At first, Cuban picked up signals from KLIF (AM) in his bedroom and then streamed them on the Internet.[3] The company grew from mainly broadcasting sporting events to broadcasting U.S. presidential nominating conventions and many other events.[3]

In 1998, AudioNet was renamed to Broadcast.com and in July 1998, the company became a public company via an initial public offering.[4] The stock price soared 250% on its first day of trading, a record for a newly-issued public stock.[4][5] After the IPO, the company was worth $1 billion, Mark Cuban was worth $300 million, and Todd Wagner was worth $170 million.[5]

On April 1, 1999, less than nine months after the IPO, Yahoo! announced the acquisition of Broadcast.com for $5.7 billion in stock.[6] At the time, Broadcast.com had 570,000 users and the purchase price was $10,000 per user. Cuban sold most of his Yahoo! stock that same year, netting over $1 billion.[7] Founder Chris Jaeb, whose stake was diluted to less than 1% of the company, received approximately $50 million from the sale.[2]

The service became a part of Yahoo! Broadcast Services.[8]

Yahoo! shut down much of its broadcast services in 2002,[9] and Broadcast.com has since been discontinued. Yahoo!’s high-profile purchase of Broadcast.com has since been called one of the worst Internet acquisitions.[10][11]

At the time, few Internet 1.0 visionaries were taking the step of cashing out early, believing that technology and demand was exploding without a ceiling.    Cuban believed otherwise.  He assessed his upside and downside and made his decision.  It was his call and his business.  And he was ultimately proven right.  Yahoo! continued to make many other foolhardy decisions in that era, including somehow believing they could make a full run at being a content provider rather than a portal.  He just took better advantage of them than many others had done.

What Cuban and the Mavericks chose to do Friday night was completely within their purview.  The NBA has valiantly tried to figure out ways to discourage what they believe to be tanking, coming up with increasingly complex and confusing formulas to determine who gets what when it comes to lottery odds as well as how trades are defined.  They are constantly being revisited every time someone like Cuban finds a way to use the system to their advantage.  It is not an indictment of Cuban to use the existing system as a baseline to decide how HIS team will move forward.

Will Luka Doncic indeed move on?  Was he truly as pissed off at playing only a quarter on Slovenian night?  Is Irving indeed so disappointed that he will take any offer other than Dallas to move on?  Maybe if the Lakers hadn’t rallied last night for a thrilling overtime win that now assures they get yet another flawed upper-tier opponent, the Memphis Grizzlies, in the first round of the actual playoffs, Irving’s leverage with them might have been enhanced.  It still might be.

But that’s SPECULATION.  By people who are fans, not owners.  By reporters, not businessmen.  By minnows, not sharks.

I know Mark Cuban well enough to know he knows what he’s doing.  And I also know snowflake journalism when I see it.

You wanna attack someone?  Attack the genuises at the NBA who simply can’t figure out how to make a system one that people would want to succeed in.  I’ve heard plenty of good suggestions.  Perhaps make the cutoff date for the lottery odds the trade deadline–thus minimizing the chances that something so definitive so close to season’s end can reoccur?  Perhaps do away with the somewhat silly system of having thousands of ping pong balls determining draft order designed in the same manner as participation trophies to minmize the chances for teams to stockpile draft choices over multiple years?

Nah.  That apparently would mean you’re admitting you may have been mistaken. Which is something I can assure anyone Mark Cuban is not capable of being guilty of.

A Dallas-Los Angeles winner take all game this week would have been very attractive for ESPN or TNT.  Having the Dallas-Fort Worth market alive for the playoffs would certainly have benefitted both of those networks, let alone the league.   At a time when future media rights are in play, there’s certainly motivation for that to be the case.

Mark Cuban chose the path that worked best for HIS interests.  HIS team.  HIS money.

I’m amazed it’s been so difficult for so many so-called experts to grasp that.

And with that, I’m out.




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