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Mark Cuban fined $600,000 for saying his Mavericks plan on ‘tanking’

Dallas Mavericks team owner Mark Cuban admitted publicly that the team’s plan was to tank. (Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press)

Mark Cuban was fined $600,000 by the NBA Wednesday for saying recently that his Dallas Mavericks, who have an 18-40 record, plan on “tanking.” Commissioner Adam Silver said the fine was for “public statements detrimental to the NBA.”

Cuban was speaking on a new podcast hosted by Julius Erving, “House Call with Dr. J,” when he talked about how he tries to be as “transparent” as possible with his players and coaches. “I’m probably not supposed to say this, but I just had dinner with a bunch of our guys the other night, and here we are, you know, we weren’t competing for the playoffs. I was like, ‘Look, losing is our best option,’ ” Cuban told Erving.

“Adam [Silver] would hate hearing that, but at least I sat down and I explained it to them. And I explained what our plans were going to be this summer, that we’re not going to tank again. This was, like, a year and a half of tanking, and that was too brutal for me.

“But being transparent,” Cuban continued, “I think that’s the key to being kind of a players’ owner and having stability — you’ve got to communicate.”

In its announcement of the fine, the NBA noted that the podcast was released on Feb. 18, which happened to be the same day the league staged a well-received All-Star Game. On Wednesday, Cuban said of the fine to the Associated Press, “I earned it. I got excited talking to Dr. J and said something I shouldn’t have.”

Last year, Cuban admitted that his Mavericks deliberately engaged in tanking, but he claimed it was only for the handful of games Dallas played after it was officially eliminated from playoff contention.

In comments made on on “The Dan Patrick Show” in May, Cuban said that “once we were eliminated from the playoffs, we did everything possible to lose games.” Several weeks later, Silver said those comments were “something that we spoke to him directly about.”

“Yes, it’s not what you want to hear as commissioner,” Silver told reporters at a news conference following a league meeting. “I will say that Mark has a long track record of being provocative, and … I think he acknowledged it was a poor choice of words.

“When we looked at what was actually happening on the floor, which is most important to me, there was no indication whatsoever that his players were intentionally losing games. And so we were satisfied with that, and again, and we moved on.”

Silver’s assertion that Cuban’s players did not appear to be “intentionally losing games” was an important one, in terms of maintaining the integrity of his league, but it overlooked other ways that teams can stack the deck against themselves. Speaking with Patrick, Cuban explained that, in last season’s final stretch, the Mavs made a point of reducing the minutes of their better, more experienced players in favor of the younger members of the roster.

“Once a guy walks on the court, they’re going to play their heart out,” Cuban added, and in reality, Dallas’s tactic made sense for a number of reasons. If a team has no shot at the playoffs, why wouldn’t it want to wring some value out of the remaining games by giving its inexperienced players some crucial time on the court?

It’s just that there’s no reason to specifically refer to that approach as “tanking,” and certainly not in an interview beamed into cyberspace for all to hear. But perhaps, as Cuban indicated, his candor will come across as refreshingly honest to his players, and maybe even to other talented players around the league who might consider joining a non-tanking version of the Mavs in the future.

Not surprisingly, though, the NBA took a very dim view of the declaration that one of its teams no longer had an interest in winning, with 24 games left to go. The fine was the largest ever handed to the oft-penalized Cuban by the league, topping a $500,000 fine he received in 2002 for criticizing former director of officials Ed Rush.

Cuban has a much bigger problem on his hands, though, with the release Tuesday of a Sports Illustrated story alleging a corporate culture within the Mavericks’ organization “rife with misogyny and predatory sexual behavior.” Cuban said Tuesday he was “embarrassed” and vowed to fix the problem, and on Wednesday he told ESPN that he accepted sole responsibility for keeping a beat reporter for the team website, Earl Sneed, on staff after Sneed was accused of abusing multiple women, including a fellow Mavs employee.

“What I missed, again, is I didn’t realize the impact that it would have on the workplace and on the women that worked here, and how it sent a message to them that, if it was okay for Earl to do that, who knows what else is okay in the workplace?” Cuban, who fired Sneed Tuesday, said to ESPN. “I missed that completely. I missed it completely.”

In terms of his team’s apparent decision to tank, Dallas has a battle on its hands if it wants the most ping-pong balls in this year’s draft lottery. Its 18 wins are tied for fewest in the NBA with a whopping five other teams — the Grizzlies, Hawks, Kings, Magic and Suns — and the Nets and Bulls are just ahead of them with 19 and 20 wins, respectively.

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