Post by Leon Zhang
February 25, 2013
The regular season is over and for the eight teams who finished with a good enough record to participate, the month of March will one of hope and optimism… unless you’re playing Guangdong or Beijing in the first round. Then, maybe it’ll just be a month of collecting first-round playoff bonuses. But for those nine teams who are already relaxing at home, you’re not forgotten. Leon Zhang says goodbye to the worst team in the league, the Qingdao Eagles, in his first installment of CBA Farewell Letters.
Oh, Qingdao, how you tantalized all of us with one move, one player, one Tracy McGrady; and what a shock all of us experienced in the aftermath of such a seismic shift. We all knew it would be hard for you to have a decent record with such a bare roster, especially with Li Gen off to Beijing. But really, it’s been a dramatic disaster both on and off the court, and wherever you guys thought you were going when you protested a questionable call in Round 20 against Bayi. And that’s kind of the way it’s been this year, a team trying to find its identity amid turmoil and bursts of anger.
Where do you start with such a season? Maybe it was T-Mac’s first preseason game, where his sparse playing time prompted fans to throw trash onto the court. Little did they know, it would get much, much worse from there. Head coach Kang Jung-soo was fired two games in, and Qingdao responded by losing the first 13 games of the season. McGrady (25 points, 7.2 rebounds, 5.1 assists), hampered by a midseason injury, left the burden of offense to the likes of Li Tao (11.3 points) and Zhao Yonggang (11.1 points, 47.6% from three); useful players, no doubt, but no match for the rest of the CBA on their own. In frustration, T-Mac’s elbow found a sternum, but thankfully, the Eagles finally reached rock bottom around the start of 2013. Chris Daniels (28.6 points, 11.3 rebounds) supplanted an offensively hapless D.J. Mbenga as McGrady’s running mate, proving to be one of the best imports in the league and the team even ran off a five game winning streak — funnily enough, the longest in team history. Qingdao’s two-pronged attack, though, grew stale, and the team stumbled to an eventual last place finish, a nice stretch sandwiched by an unbecoming start and a 1-7 finish.
Perhaps we should just conclude that this was an experience, an enjoyable ride for all of the CBA’s loyal viewers. Tracy McGrady brought a circus (interview fiasco, cheerleader scam, and diarrhea trouble for starters), played well enough to receive plaudits from the best of the league, and endeared himself to his own teammates through his humility… but at the same time, the sideshow of this one player eclipsed an entire season. The top All-Star vote getter leaves Qingdao and China after this year, and aside from a gem in Daniels, who they probably will not be able to retain, Qingdao is left with a threadbare lineup. Granted, they’ll have a third import, so all is not lost, but the team will be hard pressed to replicate even this year’s production. An excellent year for entertainment, but a bleak future awaits.
Or we can see this as a fine experiment with one of the world’s most heralded players. If it hasn’t become clear already, no one foreign player, not even the famed Mai Di, can save a team. Even more, perhaps there’s something positive to be gleaned from the mess of officiating, with McGrady following through on his threats to leave China; though we don’t know the exact reason he is departing, at the very least, shoddy refereeing played a part in his final decision. Maybe in the future we’ll have better refereeing because of his “three blind mice” blast and the subsequent suspensions, and perhaps years from now we won’t remember the pitiful season the Eagles had, but we’ll see the league’s inability to keep a major star as a blessing in disguise. Bye for now Qingdao, and thanks for bearing the price for all this hoopla.