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Tanking is often the ultimate show of competitiveness

The group text was blowing up on Dec. 27, 2020, and some of the theories being posited were completely ridiculous.

There were actually Jets fans celebrating their team’s victory over the Cleveland Browns and neutral observers making the case that such excitement was justified.

For those who don’t have that date etched in their brains, that was when the Jets found a way to beat a short-handed Browns team for their second consecutive win. It’s the victory that pushed New York ahead of the Jaguars in the standings and essentially ensured the Jets would pick No. 2 in the draft. That meant Zach Wilson instead of Trevor Lawrence.

Of course, the good Jets fans were furious with the victory. But some were celebrating. Silly statements like, “We don’t get many chances to be happy, let us enjoy it,” or even worse, “the team needs to learn a winning mentality” were uttered by those who were happy with the win.

Two years later, the Jets are considering mortgaging some of their future for Aaron Rodgers because the team is a quarterback away from being very good. Is anyone still celebrating that silly win over the Browns?

Losing with a purpose

Look, losing sucks. It’s infuriating. It gnaws at the soul. It’s often far more devastating than any win can be rewarding.

And yet sometimes it’s just the right thing to do. There’s actually a case to be made it’s the ultimate show of competitiveness to intentionally go through that kind of anguish to reach the team’s goals.

Yet tanking has become such a hot-button issue, and perhaps no case of it will be as controversial as what the Mavericks did Friday night.

Dallas had a decision to make: Try to win the final two games of the season and sneak into the Western Conference play-in tournament or try to make sure they lost to the Bulls to give themselves a better chance at keeping their first-round pick.

They choose the latter. It was the right decision, and it’s not particularly close. The Mavericks organization realizes the roster wasn’t going to do much in the postseason even if they did eke their way in. That would also likely mean falling out of the top 10 in the draft, which would automatically ship their pick to the Knicks.

Is the goal of a franchise to try to participate in the postseason or to try to compete for championships? If you say both, stop being naive.

The leagues realize this, and they’re mostly OK with it. The system is set up to encourage it, at least to some degree. What the leagues don’t like, however, is when you publicly admit it.

That was the error of the Mavericks, who kept five key players out of the lineup in the hugely important game against the Bulls and shut down star Luka Doncic early in the second quarter before allowing Chicago to rally for a victory.

Just don’t admit it

Mission accomplished, except for coach Jason Kidd admitting it.

“We were fighting for our lives, and understanding this is a situation we’re in, but the organization has made the decision to change,” he said during his pregame media availability. “So, you know, we have to go by that, and that’s something that happens.”

Now the NBA has said they are investigating the Mavs’ motives and the circumstances surrounding the result. Save the time and effort. They lost on purpose, and they were right to do it.

Want to eliminate tanking? Stop incentivizing it. For now, teams that participate in the practice aren’t actually tanking, they’re actually being extremely competitive.

Let this also be a guide for the upcoming NFL season. The two most successful teams will be the Super Bowl champion and whichever team finishes with the worst record and ends up with the biggest prize in next year’s draft.

Yes, it’s time to Crash for Caleb Williams, the Southern California quarterback and presumptive first pick in the 2024 draft.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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