The NBA threw the book at the Mavericks for doing what other teams do

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban (Photo by Tim Heitman/Getty Images)
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban (Photo by Tim Heitman/Getty Images) /

The NBA announced this week that the Mavericks are being fined $750,000 for not playing their best players during a late-season loss to the Bulls that cost them a potential play-in slot. In its statement announcing the fine, the league said the Mavericks “undermined the integrity of the sport.”

OK.  As a fan who buys tickets to games and pays for a League Pass subscription, I’m down with anything the league can do to incentivize teams to play their best players as often as possible. Furthermore, it’s important to note that there’s an ancillary effect any time a team isn’t fully committed to winning a particular game, in that the other team on the floor doesn’t need to work as hard. And we won’t even mention the havoc it wreaks with betting.

The NBA’s logic in fining the Mavericks makes no sense.

So the Mavericks got busted, if you want to pretend for a moment that $750,000 will cause Mark Cuban (net worth, per Forbes: $5.1 billion) to lose sleep, especially when the payoff is a lottery pick that Dallas would have otherwise lost to the Knicks. But does it make sense for Dallas to get nailed when Damian Lillard was shut down for the season in late March, the Pistons have basically benched their entire starting five since the beginning of March, and the Rockets have been prioritizing draft picks over winning since James Harden bailed on them two years ago?

It’s true, of course, that Lillard and all of the Pistons have injuries that make the decisions on whether to play them less than cut and dried. Plus, it’s more noticeable when a team throws away a play-in bid to secure a draft pick like Dallas did than when they try to maneuver from, say, the seventh pick in the draft to the fifth. It’s also true that Cuban has an attitude that almost dares the league to fine him, although that doesn’t mean that the league has to do so.

But, to use the league’s own words, does it undermine the sport’s integrity more? The last time I looked, people were still buying tickets to watch the Blazers and the Pistons, and they were still betting on their games. We don’t know if shutting down Lillard is more medically justified than sitting Kyrie Irving, or if any of the Pistons’ core players could have gutted it out and played the last 15-20 games.

We could just give everyone the benefit of the doubt, but the reality is that NBA teams have been playing these games for years, so fans have no reason to trust in “the integrity of the sport.” Every season, multiple teams gut their rosters and sit out their best players for murky reasons to maximize their draft odds while still expecting fans to pay full price. If Dallas crossed a line that hasn’t been crossed dozens of times before, it’s only because they weren’t subtle about it.

dark. Next. The Mavericks punting on the playoffs is tanking at its worst

Meanwhile, the teams that aren’t outright tanking are sending out less-than-complete rosters on a nightly basis as a nod to “load management,” which also represents an affront to the idea of trying to win every game. We can debate whether load management is necessary or ethical, but anyone trying to make a persuasive argument for it has to explain how a total of 116 NHL players managed to appear in every game this season.