Move over Wilson Chandler and Earl Clark. You’re not the only two NBA players in Zhejiang, China, anymore.
An anonymous source with knowledge of the situation has told NiuBBall.com that Denver Nuggets free-agent guard, J.R. Smith, has signed a contract with the Chinese Basketball Assocation’s Zhejiang Chouzhou Golden Bulls. The deal is estimated to be worth around $3 million, making him the highest paid player in league history.
The news was first reported by Sina Sports on Sina Weibo (Chinese twitter) and has since been announced on Zhejiang’s official team website.
Smith joins Wilson Chandler, Earl Clark and Josh Powell on the list of NBA free-agents who have decided to play in China this season as a result of the lockout. Per league rules, Smith’s deal does not include an opt-out clause that would allow him to return to the NBA when the lockout ends.
Smith, like other NBA free agents, has received heavy interest from Chinese teams over the last three weeks. With the CBA having barred all NBA players with active contracts from playing here this season, free agents are the only NBA players who are eligible to sign with Chinese teams.
Before signing with Chouzhou, Smith was originally linked with a big money move to Shanxi Zhongyu. Owned by one of the league’s richest and most ambitious owners, Shanxi was the only team to openly disagree with the league’s rule. Before league officials voted to ban all NBA players with active contracts from signing in China, Shanxi was reportedly on the verge of signing Los Angeles Lakers superstar, Kobe Bryant to a lucrative month-to-month deal.
Unable to sign Bryant or another superstar, Shanxi has been seriously exploring bringing in a high level free agent to soften some of the blow. However, the source told NiuBBall.com that after having serious negotiations with Smith over the last week, the two sides simply walked away from each other after a final deal could not be a agreed upon.
Though Smith will join Chandler and Clark in province, he will be playing for a completely different team. Zhejiang has two teams, Zhejiang Guangsha and Zhejiang Chouzhou. Last season, the Golden Bulls signed Mike James and Josh Boone with the hope that two NBA-caliber players would catapult them up the standings. However, James never lived up to expectations and was released early in the season. Former 2007 San Antonio Spurs draftee, Marcus Williams, was brought in as a replacement and along with Boone, lead the team to a fifth place regular season finish. The team was then swept by Nanjing Nangang in the first round.
Last season for the Nuggets, Smith averaged 12.3 points and 4.1 rebounds in 79 games.