A Lose-Win Proposition 

Mark Cuban, the outspoken owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, got in trouble last week for remarks he made during a podcast interview with Hall of Fame great Julius Erving. Cuban's statements were so out of line that Commissioner Adam Silver fined him $600,000 for "public comments detrimental to the NBA."

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What was Cuban's speech-crime? He told the truth. He said he told his players the best thing for them to do for the rest of this season was to lose: "I sat down and I explained it to them," he told Erving. Pretty expensive blasphemy.

The preferred term for trying to lose is "tanking." The problem is that at least eight, and maybe nine, teams besides the Mavericks are tanking right now, including our beloved Memphis Grizzlies. That's because the NBA's draft lottery system rewards teams that finish the season with the worst records with the early picks in the post-season player draft. In short, the worse a team's record, the better their odds of picking a good player in the draft. Hence this unseemly race to the bottom.

But with nearly one-third of the teams in the 30-team NBA now playing to lose, the regular season has simply become a farce. Consider: The nine openly tanking teams had lost a combined 44 games in a row, as of last weekend. That means if you're a team that's actually trying to win, your odds on any given night are about one in three that you'll be playing a team that will be quite happy to let you do so. Throwing games on purpose used to be called cheating. Now it's "strategy."

Tanking is not so obvious as teams intentionally missing shots or making purposeful turnovers. Players would never "try to lose," we are assured by everyone affiliated with the NBA not named Mark Cuban. No, the methodology is slightly more subtle. A team's best players get lots of "rest"; they experience prolonged bouts of "illness" or suffer from "sore knees" that just don't get better, darn it. Meanwhile, young bench-warmers and end-of-career veterans get most of the court time. They hustle and scrap, but they are cannon fodder — the Washington Nationals versus the Harlem Globetrotters — and they know it.

It's a strategy that cheats everyone: The fans see a lot of non-competitive basketball games, often absent the stars they come to see. Teams that are actually fighting for playoff positioning get hosed when a team they are competing with in the standings gets to play a tanker while they're playing against a team trying to win.

In this week's cover story, Kevin Lipe offers five ways that Grizzlies fans can "enjoy" watching our tanking Grit 'n Groaners. You know, watch the young players develop, celebrate their hustle, get excited for those nights when comebacks fall just short. Yada yada, yada. I say, if we're going to tank, let's tank. Let's go all in. Let's have fun with it. Let's be like Cuban and tell the truth.

First, we need stop with the Kabuki theater of the pre-game shows, wherein Brevin Knight, Rob Fisher, and Chris Vernon assess the team's chances on a given night and offer "three keys to victory." Seriously? Everybody knows we're trying to lose, so just go ahead and embrace it.

Knight: "Here are my three keys to a loss against the Magic tonight, fellas: 1) We need to have Deyonta Davis take as many three-pointers as possible; 2) No jumping; 3) Foul, foul, foul.

Vernon: "Good points there, Brevin. And I'd add we're really going to have to resist the urge to take open shots."

They could also analyze upcoming games a bit more honestly.

Fisher: "We've got some tough must-lose games coming up, fans. It doesn't get any easier from here on out. The Griz shouldn't have any problem losing to Houston tonight, but there are a few contests coming up that will put the Griz to the test. Home against Atlanta, for example. The Hawks are streaking with 14 straight losses and the Griz have lost 11 in a row, so something's got to give. Should be a helluva game. ... "

Break out the "Grit 'n Grind" towels, y'all. We can do this!


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