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Mavericks, and anyone else, shouldn’t be rewarded for losing

Team Tank. There might not be a phrase that riles me up more right now.

Now, to make sure I don’t violate any type of infringement here: “Team Tank” is definitely not my creation. It was coined by 105.3 The Fan’s “Slow Jeff” Cavanaugh. Ever since Deron Williams told the Mavericks he had no intention of signing with a team that has no support for basketball (you know that was his reason), Slow Jeff has been saying that the Mavs should just start intentionally losing games, not even trying, somehow thinking that it will lead to the Mavs the top pick and the next Tim Duncan that will suddenly turn things all the way around. Meanwhile, the rest of us Mavs fans are supposed to sit around and endure the 21st century version of the Black Sox. Apparently Slow Jeff fails to remember that the Mavs spent 10 straight years in the lottery and never won the top pick, yet somehow their luck will turn around this time.

But the more I stew about it, the more I realize: I’m not mad at Jeff for making such a suggestion. I’m mad at the system in place that makes him consider such a possibility.

The NBA Draft Lottery was supposed to eliminate the prospect of teams throwing games for better draft picks, but since the league caved in and gave the teams with the worst record a better chance of winning, the meat has been taken out of it. It’s back to assuming the worst teams are losing on purpose, completely destroying any integrity the league has.

But here’s the capper on this whole “Team Tank” theory: It doesn’t work.

There’s a reason teams that drop to the lottery stay in the lottery. It puts a stigma on them. Remember the Mavs of the 90s? Being a lottery team puts an aura of failure on your team that demoralizes everyone in the organization and they never recover from. You think this will be the last time the Mavs will be in the lottery if they drop there? That’s what the Wizards, Kings, Warriors and Hornets keep telling themselves.

What’s more, getting the first pick nowadays means you’re likely getting a college freeman who will spend his first two years whining and demanding a trade before ultimately being declared a huge bust. In the last 25 years, only three No. 1 draft picks – Shaquille O’Neal, Duncan and Lebron James – have gone on to win championships. Only Duncan did it with the team that drafted him, and only James did it with less than three years college experience, which this year’s top pick almost certainly won’t have. The lack of experience thing is crucial. It used to be getting the top pick meant you got a player that could carry your team. Now you’re more lily to get a Kwame Brown or Andrea Bargnani than a Dwight Howard.

It’s amazing that our country, which is supposedly built on free market capitalism and the belief that “Only the strong survive,” has for years enabled a system that rewards failure. If this were Europe, the lowest teams wouldn’t be fighting for a draft pick. They’d be fighting to avoid getting booted down to the minor leagues.

Which is why things ultimately need to change. The NBA can’t enact a system of promotion and relegation, sadly, due to the lack of a true minor league system. And nothing will stop every draft class from being loaded with freemen who just aren’t ready due to the same issue.

But something can be done to eliminate any incentive of intentionally losing games. Go back to giving every team the same chance of winning the lottery. But here would be the extra kicker: The teams that finish dead last in their divisions wouldn’t be eligible for the lottery. At all.

Voila. The league’s worst teams would now have incentive to actually win at the end. And any concept of Team Tank would be dead and gone.

Great – I just stole someone else’s catchphrase. Sorry, Richie.


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