Four days after being hit with a proposed rule that would prevent teams from signing locked-out NBA superstars to month-to-month contracts this season, teams are hitting back with an announcement of their own:
We don’t care about your stinking rule.
Fixed on taking advantage of the rare opportunity of bringing an NBA superstar to China this season, teams are looking at various ways to get around the Chinese Basketball Association’s new rule that would block active NBA players from playing here this season. According to a report published yesterday by Titan Weekly, teams aren’t just moving forward with negotiations to bring superstars to China, they’re going full steam ahead.
That is substantial, because according to the Titan report, several different negotiations between teams and players had already progressed into advanced stages before Sunday’s news about a preventive rule that would disallow teams from including out-clauses in contracts with active NBA players. Citing an anonymous source with direct knowledge of teams’ dealings, Titan is reporting that several organizations have offered per month contracts to Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki worth over $1 million. The source claims one team has put forth a $1.5 million deal to 2011 NBA Finals MVP.
And that’s not all. During Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul’s week-long Jordan Brand China Tour, which was completed Tuesday in Beijing, several teams were negotiating with the two’s agency, CAA, about a proposed $2,000,000 a month deal. Before news about the rule change was reported on Sunday, talks had become serious enough to warrant discussions about such specifics as providing personal security and arranging housing for family members, according to the source.
Today, the Chengdu Daily reported that Zhejiang Guangsha offered Wade $2 million a month while he was in the team’s home city of Hangzhou during the tour. Team general manager, Ye Xiangyu, who voiced her concern about bringing over NBA players on Sunday, denied that a contract offer had been made. But, when the world learned there would be no way for teams to write in a clause that would allow players to go back to America once the lockout ends, interest cooled considerably from the NBA side as they waited to see how things played out in China.
96 hours after the CBA’s proposed rule, things are indeed playing out. After analyzing the new landscape they’ll be working with as a result of the CBA’s propsed ruling — which is all but guaranteed to go through when officials meet for a policy meeting this month — teams have decided the positives of signing an NBA megastar far outnumber the risks and are commencing forward with negotiations.
Why? At the top of the list is money. Despite the steep price tags attached to these players, owners are confident that there are big returns to be made on their investments. With around seven home games per month for each team, an anonymous general manager told Titan that raising ticket prices alone would cover over half the cost of a $2 million a month contract. Knowing that games would sell-out easily, teams feel they can profit from signing a big name player.
“We can afford the price tag,” said the general manager. “And if you add in some more money from a sponsor, you can easily recover your investment from signing a Nowitzki or another superstar.”
Another reason why teams are unconcerned with the CBA is because many don’t feel the league can enforce their their soon-to-be instated rule. The CBA has one of the highest turnover rates for foreign players in the world. Some players don’t even last two weeks in the country after signing a contract, and its not unusual to see teams switch imports three times in a single season. That begs the question, if a team were to release an active NBA player from his contract, how would that be different than releasing any other import?
The answer is unclear, which is why teams are growing more and more convinced that they can negotiate an under-the-table agreement with players that would guarantee a return to America either after a set period of time or after the lockout ends. To remain in line with CBA policy, the team would then sign an official one-year deal consistent with the CBA’s rules prohibiting an out-clause, which would be turned in to and approved by the league office. After the player left, the team could point to the official contract and state a variety of reasons for why the player left — breach of contract, injury, inability to adapt to China, etc. — and claim no responsibility for the player’s departure. With a league approved contract on file in league headquarters, there wouldn’t be any way for the league to prove foul-play.
“Since word of the new rule got out, the common thinking to get around this has been to write up two contracts, the real one [that has been negotiated with the player] and the one that is officially filed with the CBA,” said another general manager speaking anonymously. “We feel we can absolutely get a deal done with a player privately. Once the lockout ends, we’ll just release him. Then, after he’s gone, we’ll pull up the one-year contract that is on file with the league.”
Yet, perhaps even more important in all of this is the pent up frustration teams have towards the CBA and their policies. Because the CBA is controlled and run by the government, the league is treated as a national interest. Unlike the NBA in the U.S., where profitability comes before all, the development and success of the national team is the number one priority for the CBA’s decision makers. As a result, not one team in the league is profitable currently. Bringing in a Bryant, Wade or Nowitkzi would undoubtedly change that. Plus, the idea of going down in history as the team in China who brought over an NBA superstar for China’s hundreds of millions basketball-crazed fans to enjoy is one that appeals to many owners. It also is an idea that local governments are interested in as well, who are reportedly offering their support to bring an NBA player and the attention he’d bring to their city.
An opportunity to bring players of this magnitude to China is rare, and teams feel like they should be able to take advantage of it. Several figures inside team’s front offices were quoted as being fed up with the CBA’s handling of the entire situation.
“The NBA is locked out right now, and still every team’s regular season schedule has already come out,” said one disgruntled general manager. “But us? Our season starts in November and the league hasn’t even officially announced policy for foreign players this year. And don’t even talk about an official document either, the league doesn’t even keep in touch with us. We see all of this news on the internet, all of this ‘anonymous figure inside the CBA’ stuff. That’s how we get our information.”
“Let’s back up a step,” said a prominent member of one team’s front office. “Say a team had signed a player earlier and then the CBA came out with this rule. Who would be responsible for the break of contract?”
If there’s one thing to take away from the many complicated pieces involved in making China a lockout destination for the NBA’s best players, it’s that this thing is far from over. But, for now it appears that China is still very much on the table — good news if you’re a player looking to tap into China, and even better news if you’re a Chinese basketball fan.
Jon Pastuszek can be followed on Twitter @NiuBBall or on Sina Weibo @NiuBBall