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Report: Mavericks management wanted to tank earlier but Dončić, Irving refused to sit

NBA writer Marc J. Spears joins Brother From Another to talk about the NBA fining the Mavericks for resting their players with a spot in the postseason on the line and whether the punishment should have been more severe.

The Dallas Mavericks paid a steep price — $750,000 — for their naked tanking effort in the final two games of the regular season. Part of the reason that looked so bad is there were just two games left in the season (and the team had a mathematical chance at the No.10 seed) when the team pivoted.

However, Mavericks management wanted to pull the plug on the season weeks earlier, near the end of March — when the Trail Blazers pulled the plug on Damian Lillard’s season — but Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving would not sit and play along, according to a new report from Kevin O’Conner of The Ringer speaking on FanDuel TV.

“In late March, Dallas coaches met with players to discuss a plan for Markieff Morris and JaVale McGee to play heavier minutes. That is when the tanking was supposed to begin, but Luka and Kyrie were agitated that the team was waving the white flag and both refused to sit.”

The motivation behind the desire to tank is that Dallas owes its first-round pick this year to the New York Knicks (part of the Kristaps Porzingis trade) but it was top-10 protected. To use March 31 as a potential date (although the meeting may have been days or weeks earlier), the Mavericks were tied in the loss column for the No.10 seed with the Thunder (half a game back overall) and in the mix for the postseason with five games to play, but also tied with the Bulls for the 10-11 picks in the draft (pre-lottery). There is no way competitors like Irving and Dončić would roll over in that situation.

It was that same situation a week later when Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban and GM Nico Harrison pulled the plug — Kyrie Irving, Josh Green, Tim Hardaway Jr., Maxi Kleber and Christian Wood all were out and Dončić played one quarter.

Would the Mavericks have gotten in less trouble tanking earlier? Maybe, but again what bothered the league is that a team with a legitimate postseason chance quit with two games to go, if anything they had more of a chance with a couple of weeks to go.

While the Mavericks paid a healthy fine, they will keep their top-10 pick so long as nobody from below them jumps them in the lottery. Most likely, Dallas looks to trade that pick for a veteran role player who can help them win now.