The Dallas Mavericks were fined $750,000 by the N.B.A. on Friday for playing a weakened lineup in a game in an effort to miss the postseason and hang on to a first-round draft pick.
The Mavericks sat out five of their best players for their second-to-last game of the season, against the Chicago Bulls on April 7. Kyrie Irving, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Maxi Kleber were reported to be injured, while Josh Green and Christian Wood were said to need rest. The team’s biggest star, Luka Doncic, played just 13 minutes at the beginning of the game.
The remaining Mavericks lost the game, 115-112, and were eliminated from a chance to qualify for a play-in game.
“It’s not so much waving the white flag,” Coach Jason Kidd told reporters after the game. “It’s decisions sometimes are hard in this business. We’re trying to build a championship team. With this decision, this is maybe a step back. But hopefully it leads to going forward.”
By missing the play-in, the Mavericks qualified for the draft lottery, giving them a chance at a high draft pick, or even No. 1. In addition, the Mavericks have a first-round pick in the draft that they would have to surrender to the Knicks should it fall outside the top 10. By missing the postseason, they give themselves a good chance to hang on to it.
The Mavericks “demonstrated through actions and public statements the organization’s desire to lose the game in order to improve the chances of keeping its first-round pick in the 2023 N.B.A. draft,” the league said in a statement on Friday.
“The league did not find that the players who participated in the game were not playing to win,” the statement said. Doncic and other players had been vocal about wanting to keep playing and trying to win as long as there was a chance to make the postseason.
The Mavericks’ actions “undermined the integrity of our sport,” said Joe Dumars, the league’s head of basketball operations. “The Mavericks’ actions failed our fans and our league.”
Last season, the Mavericks had a 52-30 record and advanced to the Western Conference finals. This year, with the team just 28-26 in early February, hopes were raised by a trade for Irving from the Nets. Though Irving averaged 27 points in 20 games for the Mavs, the team got worse and finished just 38-44.
In 2018, the Mavericks’ owner, Mark Cuban, was fined $600,000 for saying on a podcast that “losing is our best option” when the team was out of the playoff mix.