If you need another reason NOT to watch the NBA, the league just gave you one.

Forget about the woke politics and virtue signaling for a moment; forget about the hypocrisy of doing business with China; forget about the pointlessly long nine-month season filled with meaningless games; forget about “load management”; forget about the chronic grumps (Durant, Westbrook, Simmons, Irving, Davis, James); forget about the guaranteed contracts that allow players to hold teams hostage; forget about whatever that thing is that’s growing on LeBron James’ chin; forget all that and focus for a moment on this: they’re openly throwing games.

Playing against the Chicago Bulls in the penultimate game of the regular season, the Dallas Mavericks benched their best players — Kyrie Irving, Maxi Kleber, Tim Hardaway Jr., Josh Green and Christian Wood; superstar Luka Dončić played part of the first half.

They tanked.

They didn’t even make an effort to disguise it. It was an in-your-face, we-don’t-care tanking.

Instead of watching Irving, Wood and Hardaway, fans got to see A.J. Lawson, Jaden Hardy and McKinley Wright — all on loan from the G League Texas Legends.

It was almost comical when NBA communications officer Mike Bass announced that the league is investigating “the facts and circumstances surrounding the Dallas Mavericks’ roster decisions and game conduct” against the Bulls, “including the motivations behind those actions.”

Related
What would happen to the NBA if fans practiced ‘load management’ too?

Investigate?! Investigate what? Whether six players suddenly had the flu, but happily showed up on the bench anyway? It doesn’t take a CSI unit to figure out what happened — the players were healthy, they didn’t play, the Mavs tried not to win the game. They did this of course to increase their odds of a higher lottery pick. Despite the Mavericks’ best un-efforts, they almost won the game anyway, losing by just three points.

This is an old problem in professional sports, but especially in the NBA. It occurs because pro sports award higher draft picks to the worst teams each season to create parity.

The Mavericks finished 11th in the Western Conference. They were in fifth place in February when they signed Irving. Without Irving they were 28-26; with Irving they were 10-18. So there they were, nearing the end of the season, plotting losses and draft picks. They needed the loss because they still had a chance to win one of the play-in spots for the playoffs. Who knew teams tried to avoid the playoffs?

There isn’t much the NBA can do about it short of taking away a first-round draft pick. A fine is meaningless. NBA owners have five figures in loose change rolling around in the glove box of their fine automobiles. Whatever they pay in a fine will be worth a high draft pick.

Sports leagues are terrified of anything that undermines the integrity of games. If their fans think the games are less than honest, why bother watching them? So the various sports entities go to great lengths to prevent, for instance, betting by players because of its potential to influence the outcome of games.

Pete Rose still can’t get into baseball’s Hall of Fame because he bet on games decades ago. He committed an unpardonable offense. The NFL punishes gambling-related indiscretions more severely than assault. Calvin Ridley was suspended an entire year for betting on NFL games while DeShaun Watson was suspended for 11 games for serial sexual assault (for now we will set aside the incredible hypocrisy of the NFL, which has lucrative partnerships with gambling businesses, namely FanDuel and DraftKings).

The various governing bodies are able to act against gambling, but they have been ineffectual in dealing with the problems of tanking in its various forms (such as “load management” the practice by NBA teams of resting perfectly healthy players, which means the team is essentially throwing the game). They all affect the integrity of competition.

The problem is, there isn’t much the league can do about it short of depriving teams of a first-round pick. It’s difficult to prove intent, even when it’s as blatant as the Mavericks’ case. And, too, the league continues to ignore “load management,” but why is that any different than tanking?

Tanking for draft picks is a widespread problem. As David Aldridge of The Athletic wrote, if the league is going to investigate the Mavericks’ tank job, “then I trust the league is similarly going to ‘investigate’ why the eliminated-from-the-playoffs Wizards sat Bradley Beal, Kyle Kuzma, Kristaps Porziņģis, Monte Morris and Deni Avdija on Friday against Miami. For that matter, I trust the league is going to ‘investigate’ the in-the-playoffs Heat, which nonetheless sat Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro, Kyle Lowry, Bam Adebayo and Kevin Love against Washington.”

Tanking isn’t going away any time soon, if ever.

Dallas Mavericks team owner Mark Cuban walks off the court after a game against the Chicago Bulls, Friday, April 7, 2023, in Dallas. | Tony Gutierrez, Associated Press