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Lucas to return to Shanghai, Beijing settles on Crawford

According to a weibo (a Chinese tweet) from the official Shanghai Sharks feed, Shanghai head coach, Bob Donewald Jr., has announced that Shanghai will be bringing back point guard John Lucas III to the team for another season. Lucas, who played a full season under Donewald last year, was cut on January 5th by the Chicago Bulls.  Lucas will replace Devin Green.

In addition to Shanghai, Lucas was also receiving heavy interest from Beijing.

Expected at the beginning of the year to finish in the top four for the second straight year, Shanghai’s already disappointing season hit rock bottom last night when they lost their fifth straight game in a row at home to last place Fujian SBS.  Sitting in 12th place with a 5-8 record at the season’s one-third mark, it had become obvious to both coaches and observers that the team’s current roster wasn’t meshing and that a change on the floor was needed to prevent an even larger mid-season hole.

After shocking the entire league last season with their meteoric rise from a team on the verge of bankruptcy to a 27-5 powerhouse, Shanghai and coach Donewald are struggling to cope with raised expectations and the loss of several key personnel.  Besides Lucas, who bolted for a chance to play with the Bulls, the Sharks also lost center Garret Siler, who signed a contract in October with the Phoenix Suns.  The combination of a physically dominant post player and a lightning quick guard presented the ideal situation for Donewald’s preferred small ball rotations, and Shanghai thrived as a result on speeding up the tempo and creating open looks from the three-point line.

This year, however, Shanghai has struggled to regain that success with Green and former Houston Rockets’ forward, Mike Harris.  Green in particular has struggled with his outside shooting and has shown an inability to get into the lane and create off the dribble, which has been problematic for a team that relies on drive and kicks in the half-court to get offense.

In 13 games Green averaged 15.1 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.1 steals.

But, its not just the loss of American players that is affecting the Sharks’ record.  CBA rules stipulate that teams who finish in the bottom four are allowed to pick up a third “Asian import,” meaning the player must hold a passport from a FIBA recognized Asian country.  Since Shanghai finished in last place in 2008-09, the team was allowed to add Jordan national team forward, Zaid Abbas, whose activeness and versatility on both sides of the floor blended in perfectly with Donewald’s high energy approach on the sidelines.  However, due to Shanghai’s fourth place finish last year, the team was forced to part with Abbas, choosing to use its two import spots on Green and Harris instead.  Abbas has since signed with Beijing, and has been similarly instrumental in their surprising turnaround this season.

And with the addition of another import, Beijing is hoping that turnaround can continue throghout the season and into the playoffs.

The Ducks, after playing the last six games without an import after Steve Francis left the team on December 27th, have finally decided on former 2008 Los Angeles Lakers draft pick, Joe Crawford, as its second non-Asian import. According to Net Ease Sports, Crawford is likely to arrive in the capital on Tuesday and will officially sign with the team after a workout in front of team coaches.

General manager Yuan Chao acknowledged that the presence of former Kentucky teammate, Randolph Morris, played a significant role in acquiring Crawford, saying “They played and graduated together at Kentucky, so [Crawford] has a fundamental understanding of our team.”

Crawford played in the CBA last year for Jiangsu, joining the team in March just before the post-season as a replacement to the injured Jameel Watkins.  In three games, he averaged 20.7 points and 5.7 rebounds, as Jiangsu was swept in the first round by Zhejiang Guangsha.

Beijing, who at one point had won seven in a row en route to a 7-1 start, have since cooled off in the standings.  At 2-4 over their last six games, the Ducks are 9-5 on the year — still extremely respectable given all the distractions of Francis’ two week stay — but, are clearly looking to stay in the discussion for a top four regular season finish and home-court advantage in the first round of the ensuing playoffs.  Perhaps overly dependent on Morris down low, Crawford should provide some nice balance for the team in the backcourt.

Follow Jon Pastuszek on Twitter @NiuBBall

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