The NBA announced on Friday that the Dallas Mavericks are getting hit with a $750,000 fine for conduct detrimental to the league, after resting healthy players in an elimination game against the Chicago Bulls on April 7. The league determined that the Mavericks were trying to improve their draft lottery odds by losing the game against the Bulls, which also eliminated them from Play-In Tournament contention.
Per the league's statement:
"The Mavericks violated the league's player resting policy and demonstrated through actions and public statements the organization's desire to lost the game in order to improve the chances of keeping its first-round pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. The league did not find that the players who participated in the game were not playing to win."
The Mavericks entered that game against the Bulls with a small chance of making the play-in, and they needed to win against Chicago to keep pace with the Oklahoma City Thunder for the No. 10 spot out West. After pulling out a dramatic win against the Sacramento Kings just a couple of days prior, many thought that Dallas would still try and fight for that final play-in spot. Especially after franchise centerpiece Luka Doncic publicly said that he would continue to play as long as there is a chance to make the play-in.
However, when the injury report came out on the morning of April 7, the Mavericks listed Kyrie Irving out due to rest, as well as four key role players in Josh Green, Christian Wood, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Maxi Kleber. Doncic was available for the game, but only played the first quarter.
It wasn't just that the Mavericks were waving the white flag on the season, the decision to essentially eliminate themselves from play-in contention was also due to the upcoming NBA Draft Lottery. The Mavericks' first-round pick in the upcoming draft is top-10 pick protected, meaning they would only keep the draft selection if it landed in the top 10. If it falls to 11th or lower Dallas has to send that pick to the New York Knicks as part of the Kristaps Porzingis trade the team made in 2019. Heading into the matchup against the Bulls, the Mavericks were tied for 10th in the lottery odds, and a win would've ensured that they would have to give that draft selection up.
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With, they clearly made a decision that tanking for that draft pick was more important to the team's future. While we've seen teams tank in the past in the name of draft positioning, we've never seen a team decide to tank their shot at making the play-in when they had a chance, and so publicly either.
"The Dallas Mavericks' decision to restrict key players from fully participating in an elimination game last Friday against Chicago undermined the integrity of our sport," NBA executive vice president Joe Dumars said in the league's statement. "The Mavericks' actions failed our fans and our league."
While the brashness in which the Mavericks handled the situation is a bad look for the league, there are several teams in the NBA each season who approach games the same way that Dallas did. In fact, the Bulls also rested several starters in that game in hopes of also keeping their draft selection which has protections on it. The NBA can continue to hand out slaps on the wrist for this type of scheming, but as long as the NBA Draft incentivizes losing, we'll continue to see teams tank games and whole seasons in hopes of getting a better draft pick.