Tag Archives: 2011 NBA Lockout

Basketball Pioneers: LeBron James wanted US $5 million to come to China last year

September 17, 2012

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According to an anonymous Chinese general manager, LeBron James wanted to play in the CBA last year for US $5 million.

How things change in a year.

Roughly one year ago, the NBA lockout was raging and rumors of a mass overseas player migration were swirling as the work stoppage in the States seemed to have no end in sight. With its huge market, the Chinese Basketball Association and its group of mega-rich owners quickly emerged as one of the favorite rumor mills, with everyone from Enes Kanter and Glen Davis to Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant being linked to some move with a Chinese team.

Concerned with how the sudden influx of NBA-caliber talent — and the potential for an equally sudden exodus if the NBA lockout ended — the CBA abruptly put an end to all of that, passing a rule that forbade teams from signing players under NBA contract while also restricting eligible players from including back-to-the-NBA clauses in their Chinese contracts.

The results of that decision were mixed. While the league enjoyed unprecedented popularity both at home and abroad after attracting J.R. Smith, Wilson Chandler, Kenyon Martin and Aaron Brooks among other high profile NBA players, the individual teams that signed them struggled both in creating profits and achieving the lofty goals they set for themselves in the pre-season.

The aftershocks of NBA-in-the-CBA experience thus has some teams re-thinking their big spending, money burning ways, with such ideas as a salary cap being proposed to get the league back on some sort of stable financial footing.

In a story published yesterday in Chinese basketball newspaper, Basketball Pioneers, several CBA general managers were quoted anonymously saying, among other things, there needs to be more due diligence inside of front offices, first in understanding the global player market, then in calculating a player’s monetary worth.

The debate on how to prevent teams from lighting their own money on fire will continue on, and the article itself is just a small blip in the overall issue. A small blip, that also includes this nugget: According to a separate GM, LeBron James wanted US $5 million to sign in the Middle Kingdom, a figure that upon consideration was ultimately deemed to high by team decision makers.

“Clubs need to be sensible,” said the GM, speaking anonymously. “If there was another big name superstar [who wanted to play in China] and wanted a price that’s too high, then there’s no way a team is going to accept that. Last year, [LeBron] James said he’d come for US $5 million. We couldn’t accept that.”

Whether that number is true or not, or whether the three-time MVP and reigning NBA champion was seriously considering playing in the CBA, is officially unknown. But it it believable? Considering all of the names who were being linked to China, of course it is. And considering what the major companies who back James (see Nike) would have stood to gain by having the best player on the planet play in what is potentially the biggest market on the planet, LBJ-to-China, like Kobe-to-China (which by the way happened before the league stepped in, if you believe Chinese media) was very likely on the table.

LeBron and the Miami Heat will come to China in October to play two pre-season games against the Los Angeles Clippers.

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CBA off-season carousel in full swing

March 14, 2012

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As the the playoffs rage on come to a grinding halt (thanks, Shanxi), and as we’re back on the blogging trail, now seems as good a time as ever to update everyone on the coaching and front office changes that are going on around the league.

Jim Cleamons not coming back to Guangsha; Wang Fei set to return?

Jim Cleamons, like a lot of foreign coaches over the years who were originally promised long-term stays with their Chinese squads, won’t be back for a second season in Guangsha. Initially brought in to install a program that would promote long-term development, Cleamons was a big reason why Guangsha was able to land Wilson Chandler during the NBA lockout. With his Bulls/Lakers triangle-offense import working well along with his NBA import, the Lions got off to a great 13-4 start that had some people thinking that they were a legit threat to Guangdong.

But once the lockout ended and it became apparent that he had a huge contract waiting for him in the States, Chandler turned on the cruise control, Cleamons turned off the triangle, and Guangsha sputtered to a 2-9 record over their next 11. They eventually made the playoffs, but in order to get back before the March 1st offer-sheet deadline, Chandler left back to the U.S. and Cleamons was left with Rodney White to face Beijing. As most (but not all) would guess, Guangsha was swept out of the playoffs.

With Cleamons out, the team is reportedly considering bringing back former China National Team head coach, Wang Fei, who was in Guangsha from 2007-11. Nothing official has been announced at this time, however.

Liaoning get rejected by Jiang Xingquan, hire Wu Qinglong

It is the official opinion of NiuBBall that Liaoning should be better than they are. Like, way better. After Guangdong’s roster of National Team stars, Liaoning  has the best domestic lineup of players. With Guo Ailun, Zhang Qingpeng, Yang Ming, Han Dejun and Li Xiaoxu among others all healthy this season, there was simply no good reason as to why the Jaguars weren’t in the post-season.

And it’s an opinion that Liaoning management apparently agrees with. They fired Guo Shiqiang midway through the season and after his replacement, Li Ge couldn’t guide them to a better record, they’ve decided they’re done with him too. According to QQ Sports, Liaoning at first had decided to find a foreign coach, but with the National Games coming up in 2013 – a competition that foreigners are not allowed to participate — management felt going with a Chinese coach was the better decision.

Atop their list was Jiang Xingquan, who is from the province and coached Liaoning in 1970 and from 1976-90. Jiang’s homecoming in the twilight of his career seemed like a storybook ending to the most impressive resume in Chinese basketball history, until Liaoning’s master plan hit a snag: Jiang wasn’t down. Jiang has a good deal in Xinjiang and at 72 years-old, he’s not willing to go through the day-to-day grind of head coach.

So in comes Wu Qinglong, who coached at Liaoning from 1997-2001, where he lead the team to two appearances in the CBA Finals in four years. In the years after, he served as head coach in Yunnan, Shaanxi, Shanxi and Fujian among other teams before landing back with Liaoning as their youth coach, and with the China Youth National Teams. Last year, he coached the Chinese U-16 Team (lead by none other than Zhou Qito a gold medal at the FIBA Asia U-16 Championship.

Xinjiang signs Cui Wanjun to five-year deal, Jiang Xingquan to step down (again)

If his re-appointment as head coach just 11 games into the Bob Donewald era was shocking, this is the exact opposite: Jiang Xingquan, after telling Liaoning no thank you, won’t be in his big chair on the Xinjiang bench next season. The Xinmin Evening News is citing an anonymous source who says that Xinjiang has officially signed Cui Wanjun to a five-year deal. The 72 year-old Jiang will go back to his original position as advisor, a role that he agreed upon shortly after the team hired Donewald last summer.

Cui is actually a pretty interesting story. Hardcore Memphis Tigers fans will remember him as the Chinese guy who was with John Calipari and the rest of the Tiger coaching staff for the entire 2007-08 season in Memphis. As an intern, Cui followed Coach Cal and the team so he could learn their practice structure, up-tempo offense, strength and conditioning methods,and overall team management. After the season in June, he received a Final Four ring from Calipari when he and a group of players from Conference USA came to China for a set of exhibition games and coaching clinics.

Careful NiuBBall readers will recognize Cui as the former head coach of the NBL’s Jiangsu Tongxi, who in addition to winning a championship last year, also helped polish the game of NiuBBall.com Rookie of the Year, Zhu Yanxi. I’ve never seen Tongxi play, but they apparently liked to play fast; not surprising given Cui’s connection with Calipari.

Wang Min the latest head to roll at Jiangsu

Joining Liaoning and Bayi on the list of traditional CBA powers not to make the playoffs this season, Jiangsu is busy cleaning house as they try to recover from a dead last place 9-23 season. Longtime head coach, Xu Qiang, was the first to be axed before his replacement, Hu Weidong, was told not to come back after the season. Not content with just clearing out the bench, Dragons general manager, Wang Min, is also stepping down.

After finishing in fourth place last year after Antoine Wright saved their season from Ricky Davis, one would have hoped that Jiangsu had learned how to pick good imports this season. Instead, they signed Dan Gadzuric and Mardy Collins, both of whom didn’t last more than eight games. Gadzuric was replaced by 2010-11 NiuBBall.com First Teamer, Jackson Vroman, who CBA teams should have never let get away in the first place; Collins was replaced by Marcus Williams (the UCONN one), who may have been the worst import in league history.

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Marcus Williams Interview

March 10, 2012

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Thanks to slicing drives like this, Marcus Williams has been putting lots of numbers and wins in his first season for Shanxi. (Photo: Osports)

Sometimes, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.

After learning that lesson midway through last season, the Zhejiang Golden Bulls are having to re-learn it from the comfort of their home living rooms as they watch their former star, Marcus Williams, carry one of their rivals deep into the post-season. For Williams though, who is starring for the Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons this season, the success in his new digs is just the continuation of the pattern he’s set for himself over the last three years: winning games, putting up huge numbers and establishing himself as one of the CBA’s best import players.

At 25 years of age, Williams has had a unique road to CBA stardom. A high school star in Seattle, Williams chose to attend the University of Arizona, where he spent two years before being drafted in the second round by the San Antonio Spurs in 2007. After spending most of 2007-08 season in the D-League with the the Spurs’ affiliate, the Austin Toros, Williams was signed by the Los Angeles Clippers for the rest of the season in March 2008. Unable to secure a deal in the NBA, he spent the next season back with the Toros and earned himself All-NBDL First Team honors and an NBDL All-Star selection.

But feeling the need for a change, Williams went in a totally different direction with his career — he went across the Pacific Ocean to China where signed a contract with Zhejiang in the fall of 2010. Younger and less experienced than most of the league’s older import players, the then 23 year-old Williams bucked the trend and averaged 26 points, eight rebounds and four assists while nearly pushing the Golden Bulls into the playoffs.

That apparently wasn’t good enough in the eyes of Zhejiang management, however, and the team opted to bring in longtime NBA veteran Mike James to replace Williams. Like many NBA-to-CBAers last season, James didn’t last long and Williams was brought back a mere nine games into the season. With Williams in the lineup, Zhejiang erased their 2-7 start to finish the year 17-6. By year’s end, the Golden Bulls were back in the playoffs and Williams had amassed averages 29.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and 5.4 assists.

After the mess that Williams cleaned up, you’d think the team would have learned their lesson by signing him in the off-season. They didn’t.

Despite two great seasons, Zhejiang felt once again that the grass was greener over by the NBA fence and elected to sign a locked-out J.R. Smith over Williams. No longer wanted in Yiwu, he skipped to Taiyuan to sign with the Brave Dragons. By the time the smoke cleared on the 2011-12 season, J.R. and the Golden Bulls went 15-17 and missed the post-season. Williams and the Brave Dragons went 20-12, made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, and are now playing for a trip to the CBA Finals.

Not surprisingly, Williams has been a huge part of Shanxi’s historical season. Improving on what was already an extremely refined and versatile offensive game, Williams has become even more dominant than before to become arguably the best player in the entire league. A 6-7 walking triple-double, he averaged a CBA career high 31.9 points per game this season in addition to 4.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.5 steals. What he shoots from the field is somewhat of a mystery as different websites have listed his three point percentage anywhere from 50 to 90 percent. So while we don’t know the exact number, we do know this: Boasting excellent balance and shot selection, he doesn’t miss too much and his field goal percentage is definitely over 50 percent.

And in the post-season, he’s been missing even less. In Shanxi’s seven playoff games, he’s hit for 35 points in four of them. In the semi-finals alone, he’s averaging 38 points on over 60 percent from the field and 95 percent from the free-throw line. Down 2-1 against Beijing, Shanxi will need a win and some more of the same from Williams on Sunday night to force a deciding Wednesday Game 5 in Beijing.

Yet, his biggest bucket came off the court when the two-time NiuBBall All-CBA First Teamer sat down with NiuBBall to discuss the playoffs, his development as a player in the CBA, life in Taiyuan and more.

NiuBBall: Let’s talk first about your series with Beijing. In some leagues, the pace of the game really slows down in the playoffs in comparison to the regular season. But with you and Beijing, especially the last two games, it seems like the pace has actually gotten faster. What are some of the differences you’re noticing in this series versus the regular season or even your first round series against Shanghai?

Marcus Williams: Our first playoff series was against Shanghai, and they totally slowed the pace down. Once we were able to advance and get to Beijing, we were so anxious to speed the game up and play at a fast pace. I think everyone is being really aggressive, we’re shooting more free-throws. I just think that’s our style of play. But at the end of the day, we need to get stops, especially at the end of games, and I think that’s what hurt us in Game 2 and Game 3. We just weren’t able to focus on the defensive end and they had two big nights.

NiuBBall: You mentioned the defense already, what were some other differences between Game 1 and the last two games in Beijing?

MW: Well, in Game 2 Stephon [Marbury] got going really early and I think that gave the rest of their team a lot of confidence. He got into the paint, he was able to kick to shooters and those guys were making shots. It makes it a lot harder because now instead of worrying about one player, you’re worrying about three or four players. Number #20 [Zhai Xiaochuan] had a good game. Stephon obviously had 25 in the first quarter and I think in our first game it was something like 12. So, that’s something that hurt us. He’s the leader of their team and when he goes, they go.

Game 3 was a tough game we fought back from down 15 points in the second quarter and it was a close game all the way until the fourth. I think we ran out of gas a little bit. Having to come back from 15 took a lot out of us. There is definitely some things we can improve for next game. We need to rotate on matter to their shooters and do a better job keep Stephon out of the paint. But, Game 4 is in Taiyuan and obviously it’s a win or go home for us, so I think we can bring it next game and send it back to Beijing. And in Game 5 anything can happen.

NiuBBall: Obviously he’s put two huge nights back-to-back on you guys. When you’re game planning for him, are you trying to limit him or limit his teammates? Or is it a combination of the two?

MW: It’s going to be more of keeping him out of the paint so that he has to do it more himself. He wants to get in there, draw the help and kick out. That’s what he prefers. I think he’d rather be a facilitator than go out and score 40 a night, so we definitely want to close out on their shooters. But if he’s being aggressive, then you have to focus on him because he can have big nights.

NiuBBall: A lot of your team’s offense is geared towards getting you and Charles [Gaines] the ball. It’s certainly worked, you guys scored the most points in the league this year, but do you ever see it as a challenge to get your teammates involved on that end of the floor?

MW: With me and Chuck playing together for a while, obviously we played all of this year and then we played some D-League together [in Austin], I’m real familiar with him. But, no I don’t really see it as hard to get our teammates involved. We have Lu Xiaoming at the point, he can run the show. I think it was hard at the beginning of the season. I think they hadn’t really gotten used to having us both there. But, as the season progressed and once the second-half of the season began, they got a lot more comfortable and started to trust us and I think that really helped our team, it allowed us finish up the regular season really strong.

NiuBBall: You first played with Chuck in the D-League with the Austin Toros, now you’re teammates again in Shanxi. What’s it been like reuniting with  him in China this year?

MW: It’s been great. Me and him both live in Houston back in the States, and I was talking with him this summer to figure out what he was going to do this season. It’s a big key to have an American on your team who’s game you’re at least a little bit familiar with. And he’s a good friend of mine, so it’s made it really easy just coming to Shanxi and having the quick transition, to be able to build a relationship with him and build an on-court chemistry with him. I know he’s the type of player who goes after it every night, so that makes my job a lot easier. If I have an off night, he can fill in for me and vice versa.

NiuBBall: Playing in China, how important do you feel that foreigner-foreigner relationship is?

MW: I think it’s really important, at least on the court. Obviously, you can’t control the other things, but on the court you have to have a foreigner who you can feed off of or at least you can play decently with because it’s just you two out there. You’re going to be spending a lot of time with him, he’s probably the only other guys on the team who can speak English, so you just need kind of a comfort level. Then, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on both of you to perform, so to be able to help each other is key.

NiuBBall: The last two years, you were with Zhejiang, now you’re almost done with your first year in Shanxi. Talk about both teams and how they differ from one another.

MW: In Zhejiang, we definitely played a slower game. As far as the basketball, it was all good. Obviously my first year, we weren’t able to get into the playoffs, but my second year we got better and advanced to the playoffs and we played really well. Shanxi is really fast paced. Both teams are really young, both had good players. In Zhejiang we had Ding [Jinhui] and Cao Fei, in Shanxi we have Lu Xiaoming, Duan [Jiangpeng], Zhang Xuewen and the kid from Guangdong [Ren Junhui]. So both teams are kind of similar as far as their makeup. That’s why I think it was a pretty easy adjustment.

NiuBBall: Shanxi is a little unique in the fact that the team hired a Chinese head coach at the beginning of the year and then brought in an American assistant, Beau Archibald. How has that dynamic worked and what’s it been like to have Coach Archibald around?

MW: It’s been great, Beau has really helped on the defense as far as picking up on the schemes and adjusting to what teams are doing. Also, it’s been good to talk to a coach who has his eyes out there on the floor, who can see something and come directly to talk to you and say “Hey, this is what I’m seeing out there.” And he’s familiar with the U.S. style of basketball, so the things I’m comfortable with he can help to put into the offense. It’s just been really good.

NiuBBall: You came to the CBA when you were pretty young. For various reasons, I think it’s tough for younger players to adjust to this league. How were you able to come in as 23 year-old and not only adjust, but play at a high level?

MW: I’m not going to lie, my first time here was hard. That first year I think is the one that’s going to tell you if you can make it here or not. My first year, I got really sick out here, I got some kind of virus. I think I missed two or three games. Then there’s the food. I just tried to tough it out because I think the basketball was good for me. I was able to come out and get a lot of minutes. Coming from the NBA and the D-League, in the D-League I was able to get a lot of minutes, but the money’s not there. In the NBA, I wasn’t really playing a lot. But to come here, you’re able to play your game freely and you can take that leadership role. For me, as long as the basketball is good, I’m good. That’s how I roll.

NiuBBall: This year, obviously the big story was all of the NBA guys coming to China during the lockout. What kind of impact do you think it had on the CBA this year, and how do you see it affecting the league’s development in the long-term?

MW: I think it was great. I think a lot of attention was brought to the CBA. Having guys like Aaron Brooks, Wilson Chandler, J.R. Smith, these aren’t small-time NBA players, these are legitimate NBA guys who have logged years and have had success. The talent level really went up this year. And I think it just brought a lot of eyes from really everywhere. I think some big time players in Europe might start coming over, like [Will] McDonald. I think a lot of players are really going to start wanting to come out here and play. There’s a lot of freedom out here. The CBA tries to mimic the NBA a little bit, so the basketball is not bad. So I think for guys who are similar to me, as long as the basketball is good they’ll be good. In Europe, it’s a slower game, you don’t get as many minutes and you don’t really get to shoot the ball as much. So, I think the CBA is only going to keep going up.

NiuBBall: You just mentioned the freedom and the minutes as some of the positives about playing in the CBA — your numbers have gotten better every year, do you think this league is a good place to come and improve? Do you feel like you’ve improved over the last three years?

MW: I do. I think the only way you get better is by playing. If you’re sitting on the bench and you’re not getting a lot of playing time, sure you can work on your game away from the court, but eventually it’s going to have to translate to game situations. Obviously, the competition level in the CBA is lower than the NBA, but if you’re a guy that wasn’t getting a lot of playing time, I think you can come here and play and you go on and play somewhere else, like the NBA, I think you’ll be more confident in your game and I guess just more tricks up your sleeve just because you’re able to show all of that in this league.

NiuBBall: One thing that you’ve improved on, at least on paper, is your three-point shooting. Every website has a different percentage, on the CBA official stat tracker you were shooting a perfect 100% for a while. So let me ask: Do you know what you’re shooting from the three point line this year?

MW: [Laughing] No, I really don’t. I know the last two years I was between 45 and 50 percent, so I would guess around there. I remember when they had me shooting 90 percent [earlier in the year] and people were calling me saying they couldn’t believe it. I missed two threes in 10 games. It was too unrealistic, but it gave us some good laughs though.

NiuBBall: Mike Harris said in a recent interview that he felt you are the best import in the league and that you have NBA talent. I know in talking with other players and coaches around the league, he’s not the only person who feels that way. Is the NBA on your radar at all, getting back a goal for you?

MW: I don’t really think about the NBA too much. I had times where I was in the NBA and tried it. But, I love playing basketball. I like to be out there and play, that’s what I’ve loved to do ever since I was a kid. I would obviously love, best case scenario, to be in the NBA playing minutes. But if that doesn’t happen I’d rather be playing somewhere else and getting minutes. That’s just who I am. Now if an opportunity came along, if I couldn’t pass it up, I have a son and a family and I’d love to be home, I’d take it. But until that happens, I’m happy in the CBA.

NiuBBall: You’re a China vet, what’s your favorite city in China?

MW: I like Hangzhou. While I’m in China, I definitely want to feel like I’m in China. In Shanghai or Beijing, you kind of get lost in the ambiance, it’s still kind of like the States. But Hangzhou, they have some pretty nice restaurants, the lake is real nice… It’s kind of between Beijing and a more traditional Chinese city.

NiuBBall: So you like to go out and go see the different cities.

MW: Yeah, I like to go out and see a city and explore a little bit. I don’t really go out, but while I’m out here I might as well.

NiuBBall: What do you do in Taiyuan?

MW: Well, we’ve been really busy during the season, but there’s a couple of restaurants I go to. Pizza Lovers and 1950 are two good restaurants. But as far as sight-seeing in Taiyuan, I haven’t really had the chance to go out and do that. I’ve heard of a couple of places, I think they have a real famous temple out there about an hour away, but we’ve been really busy once the season kicked off so I haven’t really had the time.

NiuBBall: Marcus, thanks for the chat and good luck with the rest of the playoffs.

MW: Thanks.

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Chandler’s FIBA LOC first gets denied, then gets granted

February 29, 2012

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Two weeks after leaving Zhejiang Guangsha, Wilson Chandler’s road back to the NBA has finally been re-opened. Now the question is, has it been re-opened in time?

Chandler’s early exit from China can be attributed to one thing: Money, and potentially lots of it. A restricted free-agent coming off of a career year last year with the New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets, Chandler stands in an excellent position to sign a lucrative multi-year contract back in the NBA. But, whether that payday comes this season or during the off-season will be the end result of the Chinese Basketball Association’s rule that forbids back-to-the-NBA opt-out clauses — and their insistence on upholding it.

Chandler’s current situation is as unusual as it is complicated. After helping Guangsha make the post-season, the team allowed Chandler, at his request, not to participate in the post-season. Upon first look, letting what had been at times the most dominant player in the CBA get on a U.S.-bound plane days before the playoffs seemed strange, if not downright nonsensical.

But with a lot of money at stake back in the NBA — and a quickly approaching March 1st deadline to secure that money — Chandler simply had to get back to the States if he was going to have a chance at signing this season, a point that Guangsha management ultimately came to understand. Chandler was a model citizen during his almost six-month stay in Hangzhou, and out of respect for the rest of his career, Guangsha essentially sacrificed their post-season for the benefit of their foreign player’s long-term career. The reasoning to get out of China was twofold: The first was to avoid injury; the second was to get his FIBA letter of clearance before March 1st.

The date is an important one: After March 1st, Chandler will only be allowed to re-sign with the Nuggets, something that isn’t within the interest of a player looking to leverage a long-term deal. With the Toronto Raptors reportedly going hard after the versatile forward, Chandler’s hope was to get his letter of clearance last week, which would have given him ample time to handle his impending business back in the States.

The latter part of the plan hit a snag, however, when the CBA refused to grant his clearance late last week.

Though likely frustrating, the decision shouldn’t have come as too big of a shock. Before the season, the CBA passed a rule forbidding players who were under contract in the NBA last year from including back-to-the-NBA opt-out clauses into their Chinese contracts this season. The rule was designed to prevent a potential mass exodus back to the States in case the lockout ended, which would have upset leaguewide stability and sent teams scrambling for replacement players mid-season. Per rule, the only way for a player to get his clearance was to wait until after his team’s season had been completed.

Or at least, that was how it was supposed to be until Kenyon Martin came along.

Martin, who signed with Xinjiang Guanghui in September, was unexpectedly granted his clearance after his FIBA application was left unanswered for seven by the Chinese. Consistent with Chinese basketball as a whole, Martin’s release didn’t come without its share of drama. Taking full advantage of Chinese New Year when the entire country takes an extended break from work to go home and celebrate the holidays with their families, Martin’s FIBA application was sent inside the one week of the year when nobody is in the CBA office. The timing was significant because as FIBA rules stipulate, a league has seven days to either grant or deny a clearance application. If there’s no answer within that time, a player’s clearance is automatically given.

The situation caused a loss of face for the league, who had been adamant all year about no early opt-outs. Though Martin’s application process was completely legal, CBA officials were furious that their iron-clad rule had been busted open through a Chinese New Year glitch.

In the aftermath of Martin’s case, the league vowed that there wouldn’t be a repeat incident and declared that no player would would be allowed out of their signed agreement while their team’s season was still being played. So when Chandler sent in his application late last week — one that requested he be released midway through Guangsha’s first-round playoff series against Beijing — the league, not surprisingly, responded with an emphatic “no.”

“After the situation with [Kenyon] Martin, the CBA has been paying extremely close attention to developments surrounding our foreign players,” said CBA Director of Operations, Gong Luming last Sunday. “We will strictly adhere to the rules we passed before the season. At present, we won’t be giving Chandler his release.”

But that was on Sunday morning. At that time, Guangsha had yet to be eliminated from the post-season. By Sunday night, however, Guangsha’s season was officially over after they were swept out of the playoffs by Beijing. With Guangsha’s season finished, Chandler re-submitted his application and was granted his release, according to Emiliano Carchia at Sportando.

Yet whether that clearance has come in time remains to be seen. With only one day before the March 1st deadline, Chandler’s options may be quite limited. As Beinjamin Hochman over at the Denver Post writes, Chandler has until tomorrow to receive an offer sheet from another team. And although there has been considerable interest from the Raptors, Chandler hasn’t received an official offer yet. A one-year deal with the Nuggets is out, which means if he’s unable to agree to a long-term deal with either the Nuggets or Raptors, Chandler will wait until the summer to sign the big money NBA contract he’s looking for.

Chandler’s agent, Chris Luchey, told Hochman ”we’re considering all options,” which includes a potential stint in Italy.

In 32 games for Guangsha this season, Chandler averaged 26.6 points and 11.6 rebounds.

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Bothfeld: In Hangzhou, Wilson Chandler gets by with a little help from his friends

February 9, 2012

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We took our seats at a Western-style restaurant in Hangzhou, China, after another Zhejiang Guangsha Lions win. Wilson Chandler, Guangsha’s star player and the best NBA player under contract in China, scored 19 points and pulled down 8 rebounds that night in the blowout victory over Shanxi.

Joining Wilson and me was Larry, Wilson’s childhood friend and personal manager, his agent Chris Luchey, and Guangsha’s assistant coach Rodney Heard. This was the China Crew.

“Can I get a spoon?” Luchey asked a waitress. She stared blankly so he tried again. “A spooooon,” Luchey slowly pronounced as he carefully drew a picture of the utensil in the air with his finger.

Seemingly simple luxuries of daily life can be difficult for a foreigner living in China, but Chandler and company knew the challenges ahead when he signed his one-year deal with Zhejiang Guangsha in August. It was a well-calculated decision.

At the time, the NBA and the Players Association were embroiled in a bitter labor dispute. Most people involved figured that the lockout would last well into January or even cost the NBA an entire season.

“I thought the lockout would last a while,” said Heard. “My sources in the NBA said [the labor dispute] was a bad one. Everyone else was losing money, [Wilson] would be making money.”

Heard touts an impressive basketball resume and is one of Wilson’s most trusted friends. His coaching career started in the early 90’s when he spent a season in China coaching in Guangzhou before returning stateside to coach at the University of California at Berkeley. After his coaching stints, Stu Jackson (now the NBA’s Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations) hired him as a scout for the Vancouver Grizzlies. He went on to be the director of player personnel for the Atlanta Hawks before being hired as a head scout under Isiah Thomas with the New York Knicks.

In the midst of his NBA personnel jobs Heard also served as the president of the Team Detroit AAU team. It was there he met Luchey, who founded and coached the rival Michigan Hurricanes on the AAU circuit, and the two became good friends.

Chandler didn’t start playing basketball until he was 16, and it was immediately apparent that he had a natural gift for the game from the moment Chris first saw him on the court.

As Heard recounted, “They told us about a good player up in Benton Harbor. There had been good players who came from there before, so Chris went up there, met him, and got him to join the Michigan Hurricanes.”

Chandler played two years of AAU ball under Luchey before heading to DePaul University on a basketball scholarship. Still, Luchey was in constant contact with him and although DePaul was losing, Chandler was blossoming as a player, so much so that he was garnering attention as a prospect for the NBA.

After his sophomore season, Chandler entered the NBA draft and hired Luchey as his agent. At the time, Heard was working for the Knicks as a scout and advised then-GM Isiah Thomas to draft Chandler as the 23rd pick.

“We worked him out for the New York Knicks before the draft. I had worked him out in the summers at different camps — ABCD or Reebok camp, so I was seeing him developing and getting better every summer,” recalled Heard. “He puts in a lot of hard work and is very focused. He doesn’t have a lot of miles on his body. A lot of guys have a lot of miles from before AAU and high school. There is a lot of untapped potential. He could one day potentially be a multiple-time All-Star.”

Upon being drafted by the Knicks, Heard made the conscious decision to take the 20-year-old Chandler under his wing and help him develop as a basketball player and a person. While in season they kept in constant contact and in the off-season Heard is Chandler’s personal trainer.

“I’ve trained him every summer since he’s been in the NBA. We have been trying to develop his game, and I’m proud to say, every year he has gotten better.”

Heard’s assertion is true. In each of his three and a half seasons with the Knicks, Chandler improved in every major statistical category, and averaged a career-high 16.4 points in 2011 before being included as a key piece in the trade to the Denver Nuggets for perennial All-Star Carmelo Anthony, which left Heard devastated. “That was a sad day for me. It was like losing your first-born.”

After the Nuggets’ first round playoff defeat at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the NBA lockout set in and Chandler faced a difficult decision; would he flee the U.S. and play overseas like many of his peers, or would he wait in the States and hope the lockout ended? Chandler was at a pivotal juncture in his career as a restricted free agent. If he were to get injured, he would potentially lose out on a huge payday. On the other hand, playing overseas would allow him to stay in shape and get play a lot of minutes.

“I thought it would be a great opportunity for him to grow because he is still developing,” said Heard.  “Guys like Carmelo [Anthony] or Amare [Stoudemire] don’t need to come over, but Wilson still needed game experience.”

After fielding multiple offers from teams in Italy and China, Chandler decided to sign with Guangsha not because they offered the most money, but because it was the right situation. Guangsha’s owner and GM both have a great reputation for their dedication to winning (“GM” as she is referred to, whose name is Ye Xiangyu, even sits on the bench with the team). Furthermore, they had also hired longtime former Chicago Bulls and L.A. Lakers assistant coach Jim Cleamons as head coach.

When asked about Cleamons’ role in Chandler’s decision Guanghsa, Heard said, “I had met Jim in previous years. He is a great person, a great leader, and a proven winner. It was a good opportunity for Wilson to be coached by him. He has helped Wilson grow as a player and a person.”

Yet as the season approached, Cleamons still did not have a complete coaching staff. As the focal point of the team, Wilson lobbied for Heard to join Guangsha. “I told Chris it would be good if he were here working me out.” Luchey agreed, “It made sense. It’s a short season, both of them are familiar with each other, and having coached in China before, Heard is familiar with some of the issues we would deal with.”

With Guangsha, Chandler has excelled as their leader, averaging 26 points and 11.3 rebounds. These numbers come even though Chandler plays within the team’s game plan. He often enters half time having scored under 10 points, instead looking to get his teammates involved. Then, in the second half he will assert himself, using his strength and athleticism to get to the basket at will and his shooting touch to burn opponents from the outside.

Chandler led Guangsha to a 13-4 record, and for a while it looked like they were legitimate championship contenders. However, they have struggled in recent months and now find themselves at 15-13, in the thick of the playoff race. With his return to the NBA imminent, Chandler has remained committed to his Chinese teammates. In the four games leading up to the Chinese New Year, during which the CBA has a week off, Chandler made only 31 of 104 shots, good for 29%. Instead of heading to the sunny beaches and warm weather of Hong Kong like many of the American basketball players in China, Chandler remained in a cold and wet Hangzhou, working on his game with Heard and shooting over 500 shots a day.

Although his experience in China is coming to and end, Chandler feels he has improved as a basketball player. “I’m getting better in every aspect of the game. Working with Heard every day has been helping with that. I’m a more mature player in terms of my outlook and approach to the game.”

Having been together for the ups and downs of life in China, Chandler’s relationship Heard has also grown. They eat every meal together; sit together on the team bus, and spent a turkey-less Thanksgiving together on the road, instead eating pizza and potato chips. They are also there for each other during bouts of homesickness – Wilson has a young daughter and Heard has a wife and two kids anxiously awaiting their return.

Reflecting on his time With Guangsha, Chandler said, “I won’t forget this experience. I didn’t know what to expect. I came with these guys and it gave me a comfort zone. I got a chance to be with people I know and care about in another country.” “That will probably never happen again in life for us as a group. I don’t think any of us would be able to last without all of us. We need each other.”

Luchey’s spoon finally arrived as we chatted about the other CBA results of the night and which teams would pose Guangsha the biggest threat in the playoffs. The conversation then shifted to the NBA – how the lockout ended and which teams were in need of a wing player.

Upon his return to the NBA, Chandler is likely to rejoin to the Denver Nuggets, who retain his rights and are said to be interested in signing him long term. It’s unclear where Heard will work once the Chinese season is finished, but he will train Wilson during the off-season. “I need a break from Heard for about a month,” laughed Chandler.

Edward Bothfeld can be followed on Twitter @bothfeef

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CBA: Repeat of a Kenyon Martin situation “won’t happen again”

February 8, 2012

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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.

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Players in China may have to wait until March to sign with an NBA team

January 31, 2012

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With seven more games to go in the Chinese Basketball Association regular season, Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith, Wilson Chandler, Patty Mills and Aaron Brooks’ NBA return from a one-year stint in China is approaching its end. But, with all of their teams in good position for the CBA playoffs, that end may not come until after February.

The anticipation behind each of their individual returns is pretty obvious — the five players, all of whom signed in China during the NBA lockout, will be highly coveted free-agents whenever they are eligible to sign with NBA teams. The question isn’t whether or not they’ll sign back in the NBA — all wil receive high levels of interest from a number of different teams — but rather when they will legally be able to put pen to paper on a contract. And depending on the success of each player’s individual team in China, the answer will likely be sometime in March.

The reality comes as the result of the decisions of both the league and the American players made prior to the start of the CBA regular season. In an effort to avoid the instability of a mass NBA exodus to China, CBA officials passed two rules back in August to limit the effect of the NBA lockout on the Chinese league: The first barred teams outright from signing players under NBA contract, the second restricted players from including back-to-the-NBA out-clauses that would have granted a free release from their Chinese team whenever the work stoppage ended.

Though the first rule was very black and white, many basketball insiders doubted the CBA’s ability to enforce their edict on no opt-out clauses. True to their word, however, the league has kept it’s promise. Two players who have been released mid-season, Martin and Mills, both of whom played for the Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers, have not received their FIBA letters of clearance. Per their agreement with their team and the CBA, both must wait at home until Xinjiang’s season is completed. Martin severed ties with the team and was bought out of his contract in late December, while Mills was released after a controversial dispute regarding a hamstring injury.

So when will the season actually be over and when will NBA players in China be allowed to play in the States? The answer will be dependent not on when the league’s season ends, but rather on when each team plays its last game of the year.

The official end of the CBA regular season is February 15th. But contrary to what some may believe, that’s not the set date for players to be eligible to sign back in the NBA. The rule on back-to-the-NBA releases has always been specific to each individual team’s season, not the league calendar. That is, players can return to the NBA only when their team plays its final game of the year — regular season or playoffs — which means different players will get their letter of clearances at different times.

For better or for worse, most, if not all, of the teams featuring the players mentioned above will all be participating in post-season play, and thus will be playing CBA basketball into the month of March.

The eight team playoffs start on February 22nd. After the best-of-five first round series are completed, the semi-finals, also best-of-five, will start on March 4th. The best-of-seven finals will start on March 16th. If necessary, game seven will be played on March 30th.

To give an idea of when each player will be allowed to sign an NBA contract, here’s an update on how everybody’s team is currently fairing:

Chandler’s Zhejiang Guangsha are currently in fourth place and are considered as a team primed for a deep run in the playoffs. In 25 games, Chandler is averaging 26.3 points, which ranks as 11th in the league, and 11.2 rebounds.

Zhejiang Chouzhou, Smith’s team, was once positioned towards the top of the league, but have since slipped out of the playoff picture after losing six of their last eight. But, only one game out with a very easy remaining schedule, the Golden Bulls could very easily put themselves back in with a few wins. Smith leads the league in scoring with 34.2 points per game.

Martin and Mills’ team, Xinjiang Guanghui, like Zhejiang Chouzhou, is also one game out of a post-season position. With five of their last seven games at home, a place where they’ve lost once all year, Xinjiang could also be in the playoffs as well.

Two players who have not been mentioned thus far, Rodney Carney and Josh Powell, both of whom play for Liaoning Hengye, who are currently in fifth place at 14-11, would be playing playoff hoops if the season ended today. But their 2-9 road record will be under the microscope when they travel to play five of their last seven away from home, four of which are against teams with winning records.

Finally, at 22-4, Brooks’ squad, Guangdong Hongyuan, became the first team to clinch a playoff birth almost two weeks ago and barring any major catastrophe will lock up the top seed for the playoffs. Guangdong are the reigning four-time CBA champions and are heavily favored to take down their fifth straight, which means that Brooks will very likely be the last player to be allowed to sign back in America. Brooks is currently averaging 20.4 points per game.

Of course, if any team does not finish in the top eight, then all of their NBA free-agents will be allowed to sign with an NBA team starting on February 16th. Otherwise, they’ll have to wait until their team is either eliminated from the playoffs or goes all the way to win a championship.

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Guangdong, Xinjiang and CBA fans are clear winners in NBA lockout

November 18, 2011

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While NBA fans are bumming out over the yin of a potentially lost season, Chinese Basketball Association fans are whooping it up over the yang of the increasing amount of talented NBA players who have taken professional basketball refuge in China this year.

More than a few CBA teams are pretty happy, too.

At the top of the list is Guangdong Hongyuan, who followed up their coup of Yi Jianlian by announcing the signing of Aaron Brooks. He’ll join James Singleton, who signed on as an import in September. League rules only allow to American players per roster.

According to Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the deal will be worth more USD $2 million.

It’s a big move for Guangdong, who have been patiently weighing their options on the foreign guard market for quite some time. With their main rivals, Xinjiang Guanghui, having spent millions of dollars to hire the head coach of the Chinese National Team, Bob Donewald Jr., away from the Shanghai Sharks, and Kenyon Martin away from the NBA, Guangdong felt like it needed a high-level NBA scorer to help swing the balance of power back in their direction.

Clearly, that couldn’t have happened without last week’s breakdown in lockout negotiations. With the NBA season looking more in doubt than ever, the CBA floodgates have re-opened once again for all NBA free-agents. Guangdong, who are always able to take their time when assessing foreign players because of their superior Chinese roster, were seriously considering Rodney Stuckey for a time. That ultimately didn’t go down — but instead of losing out on a golden opportunity to land an NBA starting point-guard, Guangdong were able to acquire Brooks, who apparently is feeling the cold of an NBA nuclear winter.

But, Guangdong isn’t the only winner in all of this. Xinjiang, their biggest rivals for a championship this season, is also very thankful that the NBA season is becoming increasingly in doubt.

When star point-guard, Quincy Douby, went down with a broken left wrist last Sunday in a pre-season game against Shanghai, Xinjiang suddenly found itself in the unenviable position of having to replace one of the best foreigners in the league. In any other season, getting a player who possessed equal ability to Douby in November, when most leagues have started up already, would have been impossible.

But with no NBA basketball being played, there’s a fresh market full of talented players who are ready to come to China if the money is right. With a billionaire owner who is obsessed with winning a title, Xinjiang’s money is always right. According to ESPN.com, J.J. Barea and Jamal Crawford have both been contacted by the Flying Tigers.

Xinjiang signed former Denver Nugget, Kenyon Martin, in September.

Xinjiang and Guangdong are the odds on favorite and then some to meet in the Finals for the fourth straight year in March. Who will win remains to be seen, but both teams should know that they’ve come out winners — albeit under different circumstances — in the NBA lockout drama.

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Is the NBA risking locking themselves out of the Chinese basketball market?

November 11, 2011

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Eighty million.

This represents the approximate amount of money that the NBA and the Players Association are disagreeing over, and the reason the NBA season is locked out and didn’t tip off last weekend.

Three hundred million.

This is the estimated amount of basketball players and potential NBA fans in China. It is a number that nearly equals the entire population of the United States.

While the NBA is undoubtedly worried about losing fans at home in America due to the lockout, they should also be concerned about a dwindling fan base in China.  Beyond the season starting late, if at all, Yao Ming is retired. Yi Jianlian, once hyped as a Chinese Dirk Nowitzki, has instead turned into a player Basketball-Reference.com compares to Loren Woods and Dickey Simpkins. For the first time in a decade, the NBA landscape for Chinese players is uncertain.

As a result, NBA television ratings are at all-time lows in China.  This past June, a Sina Weibo poll said that 57% of respondents would not watch the NBA after Yao retired. As longtime commentator and basketball enthusiast Xu Jicheng put it, “It is Yao Ming who makes the kids in China like basketball and it’s also Yao Ming who makes the kids know how a real professional basketball player should be.”

But, Yao wasn’t the only NBA player who Chinese fans connected with. His star teammates with the Rockets, Tracy McGrady and Steve Francis, are also wildly popular as a result of playing alongside the Chinese center. After all, it was McGrady, not Yao, who had the top-selling jersey in China during the 2006 season, at the height of the Yao era. Yet, even the T-Mac era in China has fallen. McGrady’s career has been coming to a slow, injury-riddled, painful-to-watch end for the past few seasons — last year he averaged only 8 points in 23 minutes for a pathetic Detroit Pistons team. While the Chinese may still adore him (he just completed a tour of China promoting humanitarian causes in August), it doesn’t change the fact that his best playing days are behind him and he’s no longer a marketable cash cow.

The reality for the NBA in China is clear: Casual fans who once tuned in religiously the mornings to watch Yao and the Rockets have now gone back to centering their pre-noon schedules around school and work. With Yao, the NBA had a go-to player and a go-to team for Chinese fans to watch. Now looking at an NBA without Yao, the league appears to have gone back to being more of a niche form of entertainment.

This is the background that sits behind the NBA lockout here in China. As with all work stoppages, disappointment, anger, spite, and sadness are common feelings among fans. With the NBA’s lockout getting more serious, these feelings are more than understandable. The owners and Players Association cannot agree on how to divvy up a small percentage of revenue; it’s millionaires and billionaires grappling over a few million dollars, chump change when compared with the billions of dollars that stand to be made from all this.

In America, the NBA is doing its best damage control by providing updates and development through its “Labor Central” web page that is prominently featured on the front page of NBA.com. They also have a $7.4 billion TV contract with TNT and the biggest sports news outlet, ESPN, which can conveniently spin the blame on the players.

On the other side of the world, however, Chinese NBA fans — at least officially — have been completely locked out on information about the NBA’s work stoppage. As Adam Minter writes, ”To find any Chinese-language evidence that the NBA has locked its players out of the gyms, Chinese fans must click on the news tab on the NBA China site, and then scroll through news releases to find an Oct. 11 story headlined, ‘NBA announces the cancellation of two weeks of regular season games.’” But that’s not to say that fans are completely in the dark about the lockout. Websites, television programs, newspapers and magazines all have kept close tabs on the lockout and fans, if they want to go out and look for it, have no shortage of resources for information.

It’s puzzling that the NBA would risk alienating such a large and important fan base. According to USA Today, the NBA received 4.7 billion page views from China last season. Twelve time zones away from league headquarters in New York City, fans already have to overcome an inconvenient time change just to watch games.  With no NBA to watch, the league risks losing these fans forever, as they may be losing interest in the NBA’s product to begin with.

Chinese fans might also be less inclined to follow the NBA now that the CBA’s imported players are almost all former NBA players. The days of Nigel Dixon and Donta Smith-like players are over. Now, fans can see the likes of two-time aAll-Star Stephon Marbury, trash-talking intimidator Kenyon Martin, and the unpredictable but high-scoring J.R. Smith live. They’ll also be able to see them and the rest of the league on television more frequently than ever. As the lockout persists, more high-profile players are likely to join them.

As a commissioner who is completely bent on globalizing the game of basketball, David Stern is risking more than just the U.S. market during this lockout. With most recent reports saying the players want to take the failed negotiations to the American legal system, there is no end in site to the NBA’s work stoppage.

In China, however, the CBA season is set to begin. Fans will undoubtedly be intrigued with the idea of seeing if Kenyon Martin can deliver Xinjiang a championship, to watch J.R. Smith’s electrifying athleticism, and to embrace Yi’s (temporary) return to the Middle Kingdom.

The NBA, however, is facing a reality that their locked-out league is only going to push more Chinese fans away from organizing their mornings around watching basketball.

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CCTV to add more CBA games this season

November 9, 2011

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While the NBA is locked out with no clear end in sight, we’re officially getting ready for basketball here in China.

As you know, the Chinese Basketball Association released the 2011-12 schedule on Monday. The Gerald Green/Marcus Douthit let Foshan Dralions will open up the season at home against the Othello Hunter and Alan Anderson-led Shandong Golden Lions.

Admittedly, it doesn’t have quite the same ring than the would-have-been nationally televised double scoop of Mavericks-Bulls/Thunder-Lakers. Or Jazz-Rockets if you’re into that.

But, the CBA is still professional basketball, even if it is does come with its own distinct characteristics. And we’re not the only people who feel its worth keeping an eye on.

According to a report released on Tecent Sports, CCTV will be broadcasting more CBA games this season than it has ever shown before,  up to six games per week. As of yet (at least to our knowledge), CCTV has not announced its season schedule.

The news is much welcome for a league that is looking — at least on paper — as its most engaging yet. Locked out NBA vets J.R. Smith, Wilson Chandler and Kenyon Martin are all bringing their wares to China this season to form what will be by far the best pool of foreign imports this league has ever seen. Talented CBA old-hands like Marcus Williams and Charles Gaines (Shanxi Zhongyu), and Stephon Marbury and Randolph Morris (Beijing Shougang) are all back in the league and playing alongside high-level teammates. Yi Jianlian is returning to his home province to hook back up with the squad, Guangdong Hongyuan, that raised him from a gangly youth into an NBA lottery pick. The seven-time champs may need him more than ever — in northwest China, Xinjiang Guanghui, losers in the Finals the last three years, just completed the most expensive off-season in league history the intention of winning their first title in franchise history.

If those reasons (and the many more we didn’t list) aren’t enough to get you to at least give the CBA a shot this season, maybe we need to present you with this painfully pointed question. Where else are you going to get your professional hoops fix?

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Why Yi Jianlian is different than all other NBA-to-CBA players

October 18, 2011

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Chinese basketball got an unexpected piece of news last week when three-time defending CBA champs, Guangdong Hongyuan, announced the return of former player, Yi Jianlian, for the 2011-2012 season. Unlike other NBA-to-CBAers, Yi will be given the right to opt-out of his contract and return to the NBA whenever the lockout ends.

Of course, the question that immediately comes to mind for people who have stayed up on CBA’s restrictions on NBA out-clauses is: If Yi played in the NBA last year, why is he allowed to have an NBA out-clause when every other player isn’t?

The simple answer: He’s not just an NBA player, he’s a Chinese NBA player. And that makes his case much, much different from everyone else.

For those not in the know (and if you’re not, that’s cool, just click on this link to the right), CBA officials passed two rules in August designed to keep their league from falling at the mercy of China-minded locked-out NBA superstars. The first barred all players currently under NBA contract from signing here this season, making only restricted and unrestricted free-agents eligible to play. The second rule barred those free-agents from signing any out-clauses into their contracts. Free-agents who signed to play in China this year like Kenyon Martin, Wilson Chandler, Josh Powell and J.R. Smith among others, are all contractually obligated to China for the entire season and cannot return to the NBA until the season is over March.

In the case of Yi, he fits the league’s first requirement. Before the lockout hit on July 1st, the Wizards declined to pick up his $5.4 million qualifying offer, which makes him an unrestricted free-agent. But in regard to the second rule, Yi’s under a different set of circumstances because of his Chinese passport. The no opt-out rule only applies to players registered as foreign imports, not domestic players. Since Yi is Chinese, he can be legally registered as a local player and can thus sidestep any regulations regarding out-clauses. The special rule has since been dubbed “The Yi Clause.”

Yet in our own Chinese basketball-trained eyes, technicalities are only part of the reason why Yi will be allowed to sign a deal with an NBA team whenever the season starts back up again.

With Yao Ming having officially retired, Yi is now the lone Chinese face in the NBA. A free-agent coming off of a lackluster season (or four) in America, Ah Lian cannot afford to lower himself anymore in the eyes of NBA general managers by wasting a season in China playing against sub-par competition. Heck, not even the CBA itself can risk Yi playing here the whole year — if Yi fails to get a contract, the Chinese basketball powers that be would be in the humiliating post-Yao position of having their best player relegated to CBA ball.

On the other side of the ocean, the NBA probably wouldn’t be too happy about that scenario either. For better or worse, Yi is now David Stern’s only direct Chinese link to the highly valued Middle Kingdom market. As Guan Weijia introduced to Western audiences last week what is a long  known fact about the NBA in China, TV ratings have been at all-time lows since 2008-09 when Yao went down with what would be a career ending injury. It’s true that the NBA has made a lot of progress marketing its own superstars to China, but the fact remains that for most casual Chinese viewers, watching Yao was more important than watching basketball. Take Yi away, and Stern would be left with even less fans than he has now.

For sure, there is much at stake for all player, Chinese basketball and the NBA by keeping Yi locked up in China. But in the end, we think its something that doesn’t require too much worrying. While everyone is in agreement that Yi doesn’t have anywhere near the star power to carry huge national ratings in China, he does have enough popularity to bring at least some fans to the television. And in China, population 1.3 people, some people is still a lot. Even more so when you consider that Yi is still worshiped in his home province of Guangdong, which also happens to be China’s most populous. Yi won’t create sciesmic shifts for a team’s financials, but he still has commercial potential for the NBA and the team that signs him.

Plus, there’s still that somewhat tantalizing on-court potential that at least one team will take a cheap, low-risk flier on in the hope that its finally realized.

In all, forcing Yi to stay the whole year in the NBA is against everyone’s interest. And that’s why Yi is heading back to the States as soon as Billy Hunter and Stern can get a deal done.

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He’s back: Yi Jianlian set to return to Guangdong

October 9, 2011

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The Chinese Basketball Association has just added another NBA player. And this one, every person in China is sure to know.

As confirmed by team general manager, Liu Hongjiang, former Chinese Basketball Association MVP, Yi Jianlian, has agreed to play this season in the CBA with his old team, the Guangdong Hongyuan Southern Tigers. The deal includes an NBA out-clause.

Yi played with the Guangdong senior team from 2003-2007 and helped the team to win three league championships within that span. In 2006, he was awarded as CBA MVP.

The move comes as a major surprise. Up until two weeks ago, it was reported that Yi would stay in the United States during the lockout, and would only consider a return to China if the NBA season was cancelled. However, with negotiations looking less optimistic by the day, Yi only recently decided to rejoin the seven-time CBA champs for another run. The CBA has already confirmed that he has been officially registered for the new season.

But although Yi will start the year with Guangdong, it is unlikely that he’ll finish it. As a free-agent, Yi is committed to playing in the NBA next season and beyond, and will leave the team immediately whenever the lockout ends. Unlike foreign players, who are forbidden to sign back-to-the-NBA out-clauses in any CBA contract this year, Chinese players are allowed to go back to the NBA.

“Although he may not stay for us very long, I am quite sure the move is good for himself, the team and Chinese fans as well,” Liu said. “He could keep his edge in CBA, our team will also benefit from his skills and fans certainly want to see him play at his best years.”

Yi is coming off the heels of an impressive Asia Championship run where he lead China to their 15th Asia Championship title. In a one-point win in the finals against Jordan, Yi lead his team to victory with 25 points, 16 rebounds and 6 blocks en route to tournament MVP honors.

Yi was drafted sixth overall in 2007 by the Milwaukee Bucks. Over four seasons, he has played with the Bucks, the New Jersey Nets and the Washington Wizards, averaging 8.5 points and 5.3 rebounds.

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Earl Clark leaves Zhejiang Guangsha for “personal reasons”

September 28, 2011

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Earl Clark was the first NBA free-agent to sign in the Chinese Basketball Association this year. Now, he’s the first the leave.

Talking to HoopsHype, Earl Clark’s agent, Happy Walters, has confirmed a hoopCHINA report that Clark and his Chinese team, Zhejiang Guanghsa, have gone their separate ways. Walters said Clark is citing “personal reasons” after his girlfriend in the States has become pregnant.

“They have been very cool and cooperative about it because they understand the reasons,” Walters said to HoopsHype.

Devoted readers of NiuBBall shouldn’t be too surprised by the development. The CBA has one of the highest turnover rates for foreign players in the world. Either because of the player’s inability to adapt to the many on and off-court differences between China and the U.S., or because of the team’s dissatisfaction with the player’s performance or the team’s record, imports come and go with regularity from the start of pre-season to the beginning of the playoffs.

“But, wait!” you ask. “I thought there were no out-clauses in China? I thought players can’t just get up an leave whenever they want…”

Technically, yes that’s true. But you forgot to consider an important point — this is the CBA! Despite what the language of a contract may say, there are no such things as “guaranteed contracts” and “no out-clauses.” When it comes down to it, no team is willing to pay and play an import that doesn’t want to be here. With China’s paper thin pool of domestic talent, imports are relied heavily upon to be the focus of the offense and put up huge numbers. If a player doesn’t want to be here, there’s no reason for a team to keep him on board only to see his performance decline on the stat sheet and the team’s losses stack up in the standings.

So why have a no-out clause if it’s not enforced, then? The rule wasn’t put in to guarantee that guys like Earl Clark stay the whole year, but rather more as a preventive measure to avoid the insanity that would have ensued if NBA superstars like Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade had signed in China. In the CBA’s eyes, superstars in China wouldn’t have raised the level of the National Team, something that the government run league takes very seriously. Plus, having big-name players in China for a month or two only to see them jet back to the States once the NBA lockout ended was not a scenario the CBA ever envisioned as positive for the development of its league.

But even after announcing their intentions of passing a no out-clause rule, a few teams still felt confident that they could find creative ways to sidestep it and still attract superstars to China. That in turn led the league to eventually squash any chance of an NBA-to-China exodus by barring all players with active NBA contracts from signing here this season.

So yeah, it’s a little surprising that Clark, who was the first NBA player to sign in China this season, is gone after only a short period of time. But, then again it isn’t. Because in China it’s not just basketball, it’s basketball with Chinese characteristics.

Jon Pastuszek can be followed on Twitter @NiuBBall or on Sina Weibo @NiuBBall.

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Xinjiang Guanhgui signs Kenyon Martin to richest contract in CBA history

September 22, 2011

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Kenyon Martin has a really long flight ahead of him.

As first reported by the Denver Post’s Benjamin Hochman, Martin will sign the most lucrative contract in Chinese Basketball Association history with the Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers. Hochman quoted Martin’s agent, Andy Miller,who confirmed the news.

“It’s a great opportunity for him to stay in shape and stay fresh,” said Miller. “And it also gives him an opportunity to expand his name globally.”

According to Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, Martin will be paid $2.65 million for the season. However, the team will also pay a salary to his business manager, who will live with him in Xinjiang, as well as an agent fee, which will push the total deal up to $3 million.

Like every other NBA player who has signed in China this season, Martin, who is a free-agent, will not be allowed to include an opt-out clause that would allow him to return to the NBA whenever the lockout ends.

Martin joins Denver Nuggets teammates J.R. Smith and Wilson Chandler, who have also signed on with teams in China. Chandler will play for Zhejiang Guangsha and Smith will play for Zhejiang Chouzhou. Earl Clark (Zhejiang Guangsha) and Josh Powell (Liaoning) are the other NBA players who will take the court in China next year.

Whereas most CBA franchises are based in Eastern China, the Flying Tigers are located in Urumqi, Xinjiang province. Located roughly 1,500 miles from China’s capital of Beijing, Urumqi is quite different than any other CBA city. Bordering Russia, Mongolia, Tajikstan, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and Kazakhstan, Xinjiang is home to several different ethnic groups.

Martin is just the latest expensive transaction for a Xinjiang team that is completely focused on winning their first championship. Xinjiang has come up short in the CBA Finals in each of the last three seasons, losing to seven-time champions, Guangdong Hongyuan, each time. In the summer, the team re-signed guard Quincy Douby to a then-record $2 million deal and signed current head coach of the Chinese National Team, Bob Donewald Jr., to a $1 million a year contract. In addition to strengthening their foreign contingent, Xinjiang has also bolstered their domestic roster as well, signing three-time CBA MVP, Tang Zhengdong, away from Jiangsu Nangang and Meng Duo from DongGuan New Century.

Last season for the Nuggets, the 33 year-old Martin averaged 8.6 points and 6.2 rebounds in 48 games.

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J.R. Smith signs for record amount with Zhejiang Chouzhou

September 14, 2011

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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.

Follow Jon Pastuszek on Twitter @NiuBBall or on Sina Weibo @NiuBBall

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