Post by Jon Pastuszek
February 8, 2012
No way out.
That was the way it was supposed to be when the Chinese Basketball Association passed a rule in August barring locked out NBA players from including back-to-the-NBA opt-out clauses into their Chinese contracts. The move was made to prevent a potentially destabilizing mass China-to-U.S. exodus that would have sent teams scrambling for replacement players once the lockout ended, and in a year where the Chinese National Team is preparing for the 2012 Olympics, officials decided it would be in Chinese basketball’s best interest to avoid a mid-season upheaval of foreign talent. The rule’s language was clear: Any player who wanted to sign with any other professional team, NBA or not, had to wait until their Chinese team played its final game of the season. If you were going to sign in China, you were going to have to commit to a full season.
But to the shock of many, Kenyon Martin, one of the NBA players who signed in China this year, has found a way out.
Last Friday, Martin signed a one-year $2.5 million deal with the Los Angeles Clippers despite the fact that the Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers, the team who he signed with in September, still has three more games to go in the regular season. Considering the CBA’s consistent hardline stance on the opt-out issue throughout the year, the one question that begs answering is: How could that have happened?
The Year of the Dragon, that’s how. According to Adrian Wojnarowski at Yahoo! Sports, Martin’s clearance was sent from FIBA to the CBA in late January. As Andrew Robotham, a spokesman at FIBA’s headquarters in Geneva who spoke with the New York Times’ Jim Yardley over the weekend, the process was handled just like the thousands of other requests they receive each year. Like every other FIBA application, the international organization formally notified the CBA of Martin’s request. Per FIBA rule, they had seven days to respond. If there was no answer within that period, then FIBA would grant his clearance.
But with the Chinese New Year falling on January 24th this year, nobody was in the office to receive that request. Like everybody else in China, the CBA completely shut down for a about a week to go home and celebrate the country’s most important holiday with their families. While officials were on vacation, Martin’s letter sat untouched, unread and unanswered and by the time they got back from their break, the seven day period had already passed, giving FIBA the right to open Martin’s road back to the NBA.
Not surprisingly, CBA officials are upset that the letter was sent in during New Year, a move that they are deeming unethical due to what they feel was a deliberate attempt to take advantage of the Chinese holiday. Using Martin’s signed letter of commitment that was turned into the CBA when he was bought out from Xinjiang in late December, the league originally considered appealing the decision. According to a top CBA official, Gong Luming, the letter stated that Martin promised not to play in any other professional competition until after Xinjiang’s season was over.
The February 7th appeal date has come and gone without an official appeal however, and the CBA, knowing full well that they had little if any chance of winning their case, have moved on to the more pressing matter at hand: making sure the league’s other NBA players stay in China.
Because the effects of Martin’s return to the NBA are not just limited to the CBA’s Beijing office. Besides CBA government officials, Martin’s unexpected return to an NBA roster has raised the alarms for both players and individual team general managers, both of whom are equally unhappy over the development. Upset that one NBA-to-China player has broken free of their CBA chains, several foreign players reportedly want out immediately, which in turn has lead to increased pressure on their GMs, who have themselves become angry over their suddenly sulking high-end investments.
“Who cares how [Martin’s release] happened. Our team and the rest of the other teams [with NBA players] are now in a tough spot. Once this precedent is set, what can we do?” asked Ye Xiangyu, general manager of the Zhejiang Guangsha Lions, the team Wilson Chandler plays for. “There’s nothing we can do.”
“About this, I can only say we are very angry,” she added. “Before the season we made a lot of preparations. We talked for a long time about all the different steps we would need to take to make this work. Now this whole thing has been blown wide open. This year our team invested a lot of money. We had big plans for this season. We spent human and material resources to make it happen. But if this is how this situation is going to be handled, we’ve spent everything for nothing.”
After starting the season 13-4, Guangsha now finds itself out of the playoffs for the first time all season after losing at Shanxi on Sunday. The loss puts them at 2-9 over their last 11 games, 15-13 overall.
In an effort to maintain control over the exact explosive situation the league tried to avoid by making the no opt-out rule in the first place, the CBA on Saturday took the rare step of publicly admitting their own failure to properly handle the clearance procedure.
Said Gong, “…the event that occurred during the Chinese New Year vacation period was something we did not anticipate. The failure falls within ourselves.”
With speculation running wild in Chinese media the last wek, the CBA announced yesterday that they will not change their rule on opt-out clauses, which means players will still have to wait until their respective teams’ seasons are completed.
“We’ve already had discussions with both the NBA and FIBA, they’ve made it very clear that they respect our rules on this matter,” said Gong. “The foreign players who haven’t received their letter of clearances won’t have another opportunity to go play in any other professional league, including the NBA.”
“In regards rules on foreign players leaving the CBA, we won’t change anything due to [Kenyon] Martin’s release. After we explained our stance on the situation, the NBA and FIBA both understand and will respect CBA authority on all releases.”
As Gong went on to elaborate, that includes players who have already split ways with their Chinese team. Patty Mills, who played with Martin in Xinjiang, was released by the team in early January after their team president accused Mills of deliberately faking a hamstring injury, a charge which Mills resolutely denied. According to Gong, he and other players who are released before the end of the season will not be granted a release back to the NBA before the end of their team’s season.
“Even if they break off of their contract here in China, the CBA will follow the rules we set prior. We won’t be granting any letters of clearances before the end of the season. Another Martin scenario won’t happen again.”
The CBA regular season ends on February 15th. The first round of the playoffs start on February 22nd.