Entering play on Friday night, the Dallas Mavericks still had an outside shot at qualifying for the play-in tournament. They were one loss back of the No. 10 Thunder, who do hold the tiebreaker, making that an effective two-game deficit with two to play. The Mavs needed to win their last two and have OKC lose its final game vs. the Grizzlies.
Not likely. But possible.
Instead, the Mavericks, a team that traded for Kyrie Irving with at least an internal intention of competing for a championship, unapologetically by sitting Irving, Tim Hardaway Jr., Josh Green, Maxi Kleber and Christian Wood against the Bulls for "precautionary" reasons.
Furthering the slap in the face to all fans who paid to see this game, and Mavericks fans who were holding out hope to watch their team in the playoffs, Dallas played Luka Doncic for the first quarter only because it was "I Feel Slovenia" night. Per ESPN's Tim MacMahon, Doncic didn't want to "disappoint his countrymen" who came to see him play.
This is such a shameful look, not just for the Mavericks, but for the NBA as a whole as this problem of the best, most marketable players becoming increasingly less dependable to actually play, for one reason or another, continues to damage the league's reputation and product.
If you don't know why the Mavericks pulled the plug on the season, it's because they entered Friday tied with, coincidentally, the Bulls, their Friday opponent, for the 10th-best lottery odds. The 2023 first-round pick that Dallas owes to the Knicks as the final piece of the Kristaps Porzingis trade is top-10 protected.
Meaning, if the Mavericks' 2023 pick lands at No. 11 or lower, they lose it to New York. Under the current lottery structure, it's a sensible move. That's why the structure stinks.
Anything that encourages an NBA team -- considering the money these guys make and the money that, in turn, fans are expected to pay in either the form of tickets or cable packages -- to put a bad product on the floor with the intention of losing games is an unequivocally terrible, borderline insulting thing.
The last month of every NBA season always, to some degree, becomes a tank fest. And you understand why, as it does make more sense to prioritize lottery positioning than it does to maybe sneak into the play-in tournament only to get bounced a few days later when it was still alive for the playoffs.
It's time to do something different. I don't know if the answer is flattening the lottery odds for every team 1-30. There are always unintended consequences of every setup. The whole idea of the lottery was to give a bunch of bad teams a chance to get better, but the unintended consequence of that is giving teams a good reason to be bad.
It's not my job to figure out the problem.
I only know that it's a problem.
And listen, this problem didn't just start with the Mavericks pulling the plug this season. This is just one of the most egregious cases, if not the most egregious case, of tanking that we've seen, maybe ever.
Again, this is a team that made a blockbuster trade to pair a second superstar with one of the best players in the world. I cannot think of one other situation in which a team traded for a superstar in the middle of the season only to then openly punt on that same season a couple months later.
It is just a shameful look for everyone involved. The NBA's regular season has largely already become a joke, but this is about as laughable as I've ever seen it.