“You don’t really want a culture here that’s just giving up and quitting and not playing hard,” Nowitzki said after Monday’s 109-103 win over the Indiana Pacers. “I think it just sets the wrong tone for the future.
“I think it’s important for our young guys to learn how to compete and to compete all the time, play hard. You play your minutes hard. That’s the only way to get better. That’s the only way to play in this league, and whatever happens after the season, we’ll just go from there. But for now, you play your minutes hard and you play to win.”
The victory, which snapped the Mavs’ four-game losing streak, was Dallas’ first win since Cuban was fined $600,000 for public statements detrimental to the NBA after confessing on Julius Erving’s podcast that the Mavs were “tanking.”
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle had committed before the All-Star break to prioritize “player development” — often used as a politically correct term for tanking — by playing young, unproven players in crunchtime situations. On the heels of Cuban’s comments, Carlisle has reversed course, playing his regulars down the stretch of Saturday’s 97-90 loss to the Utah Jazz and Monday’s win over the Pacers.
“I felt it was a game that we had to get,” Carlisle said.
A strong case can be made that the tanking strategy makes sense for the teams with the league’s worst records this season. NBA scouts widely believe that the upcoming draft features five to seven elite talents, varying on individual opinion, and eight teams have between 18 and 20 wins after Monday night.
This is also the final year before changes to the lottery system are implemented, leveling out the odds. In the future, the teams with the three worst records will each have 14 percent odds of winning the lottery. The odds for the teams with the three worst records this season: 25, 19.9 and 15.6 percent, in descending order.
Aside from the 19-42 Mavs, the Brooklyn Nets (20-41) were the only team among those with the eight worst records not to add a loss to their ledger Monday night. The Nets, who have no incentive to tank due to owing their first-round pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers, beat the 20-40 Chicago Bulls.
Mavs small forward Harrison Barnes, a 25-year-old considered a cornerstone of the franchise’s future, is concerned that losing can become a habit if Dallas doesn’t put forth full effort to win.
“You don’t want to have an acceptance of losing,” Barnes told ESPN. “Obviously, the quotes about tanking and all that type of stuff, you can’t avoid that. We’ve been getting asked about that since they were said, but at the end of the day as professionals, as players, you have to go out there and you have to play to win.
“Any time you don’t play to win or you’re just kind of going through the motions, that can become contagious. That can become a habit, and that can become your culture. ‘Oh, it’s OK for us to do this. Oh, it’s OK for us to not give full effort.’ Then next season rolls around, and you can’t flip that switch. It’s still that malaise that you had from the year before.”