Mark Cuban explains the risk of tanking in the NBA

MArk CubanGettyMark Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks are looking at a rebuild in the near future.

After missing out on DeAndre Jordan and losing most of their starting lineup from last season, the Dallas Mavericks don’t figure to be very good this season, especially in the loaded Western Conference.

Mark Cuban said at the start of free agency that if the Dallas Mavericks didn’t land a big-name free agent — which they basically didn’tthey would tank this season.

However, as Cuban told Zach Lowe on “The Lowe Post,” the Mavericks won’t tank in the typical sense of the word.

“‘Tank’ is all relative, right?” Cuban said. “Because in the Western Conference, you can really play hard and do your best and still be in the lottery. And so, the whole concept was, if we didn’t get Wes [Matthews] and we didn’t get a key free agent, and [Deron Williams] in this particular case, among others, what would have been the best strategy for us?”

Cuban explains how the Mavericks looked at the Western Conference this season and figured if they didn’t get a top free agent, they could still be a competitive team while getting a good pick in the lottery, due to the competitive nature of the conference.

Cuban said, “Metaphorically speaking, yeah, we would have tanked, but in reality, it would have been a completely different approach than what the teams that have been vying for top picks have been doing. It wouldn’t have been a race to the bottom.”

As Cuban noted, tanking, or foregoing wins to get a shot at the top pick in the draft, is not a sure-fire method for rebuilding. He makes a great point, stating that the point of tanking is to draft a superstar, but there’s no guarantee that top draft picks will ever turn into a star that can lead a team to a championship.

“There’s only one goal in rebuilding, and that’s to get a superstar. And unfortunately, there’s no direct path to getting a superstar. Some people say, ‘Well you do it through the draft.’ Well, every team has been drafting for a lot of years… Every team has drafted. Most teams have had decent draft picks over that period, and only, what, seven teams have won championships in 20 years?

“And so, it all comes down to how you get a superstar. Taking the draft path is no direct path to getting a superstar. Taking the trade route is no direct path to getting a superstar… So, there’s trades and there’s free agency. So there’s three paths to get a superstar to start to build around. None of them are direct, all of them have risks.”

Drafting in the NBA mostly comes down to luck. The San Antonio Spurs got Tim Duncan with the No. 1 pick and then nailed two late draft picks in later years in Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. The Oklahoma City Thunder got Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and James Harden in three consecutive years and shot right up into playoff contention.

Teams like the Philadelphia 76ers are trying to hedge that bet by accumulating as many high picks as possible and hoping that at least some of them turn into those franchise-changing players.

For Cuban and the Mavs, they nailed one pick in Dirk Nowitzki and have been finding other routes to build around him, as Cuban discusses with Lowe. However, the Mavs haven’t advanced past the first round of the playoffs since 2011, using each offseason to tinker with the team through trades and free agency. With Nowitzki quickly ageing, it seems the Mavs will soon have to reconsider their methods and rebuild more organically.

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