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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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NiuBBall Water Cooler/Heater: Guangsha/Shanghai In Trouble, Play Off Speculation And The Mad, Bad World Of J.R. Smith

January 17, 2012

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The NiuBBall water cooler/heater: Where you can chat with friends about hoops while sipping either hot or cold water.

This chat originally appeared on Shark Fin Hoops.

With the Chinese New Year about to start, its time to talk losing streaks, play off places, JR Smith and hometown bad ass players in another installment of the CBA Water Cooler, where you can have your water hot or cold. Edward Bothfeld and Andrew Crawford break it down.

Andrew Crawford: Well it looks like both our teams are in spectacular funks right now. Shanghai are on a three game losing streak whilst the Lions are in the same situation but with four games down the toilet, right?

Edward Bothfeld: There’s lot’s of struggles all around. I’m starting to worry about Guangsha’s funk. I sit in the first row behind the bench at their home games and they are having trouble playing as a team. I think Wilson [Chandler] and PJ [Ramos] are frustrated that they are relied upon so heavily and I also have a feeling that Wilson is battling some nagging injuries and wants to stay healthy for the NBA season, because let’s face it, he has millions of reasons to be cautious.

AC: For sure. Is the crowd starting to turn on their team or is everyone still singing from the same hymn sheet?

EB: Their last home game was a week ago so we’ll see when they get back. The GM, Ye Xiangyu, who is the very feisty looking woman who sits on their bench, is also very frustrated.

AC: What can Coach Cleamons do to change things; by the sound of things, its down to the players now?

EB: The Chinese players need to play with more confidence instead of when they get behind in a game, praying that Wilson and PJ can bring them back. Jin Lipeng has been out and Lin Chih-chieh hasn’t been able to hit the broad side of a barn recently.

AC: Shanghai are in a similar bad situation, although two of those losses were on the road and the other was against Guangdong. You’ve seen the Sharks move up from the bottom end of the table- do you think this is it for them now or can they still make the play offs?

EB: I think they will make it. I’m sure Marcus Landry is still jet lagged and he and his new team still need to learn to play together. Also, is Mike Harris is injured?

AC: There was a death in his family. It happened before the Jilin game and he didn’t tell anyone and played on. He went home before the Guangdong game.

EB: Any word when he is coming back?

AC: I got the impression he will be back for Dongguan but whenever he does, the crowd will be vocal. They love him in the Yuanshen and something like a death in the family puts everything in perspective. They’ll probably cheer him everytime he touches the ball.

This probably has relevancy to the NBA in its reduced formwat this season too, but previously high-flying teams like Beijing are still in erratic form and now Guangsha and Shanghai are in real lulls- what do you think spark these runs or is every case unique?

EB: Teams become complacent, and their opponents have a chance to do a lot of scouting and watch a lot of tape. Then there are injuries. Its the ups and downs of a basketball season, which is why it’s so exciting.

AC: Well, not if you a Guanghsa, Beijing or Shanghai fan. These next few games are going to be painful. Looking at the play-off run in, who do you think we should look out for besides the obvious names to make the play offs?

EB: Firstly, wouldn’t it be wild if after all the pre-season and early season talk, Xinjiang missed out?

AC: For sure. I don’t think they can ride that home record to a top eight finish place. They might not make it unless they become a bit more ruthless on the road.

EB: I also think Qingdao will make it behind Lester Hudson, but that’s a hunch. I think they’ll overhaul Fujian and contend for one of the top spots.

AC: That’s a interesting call. I don’t want to sound like a bandwagon jumper but Hudson and Osama Daghlas look excellent when they get going. For what its worth, I think Shanxi look legit as well. I think they’ll be trouble for anyone if they get in. I know they’ve got a crazy owner and a slight reliance on their two Americans but they are seriously slick.

EB: Shanxi will make it, but Marcus Williams deserves a lot of the credit this season. He has been unbelievably efficient this season. I have to look twice at his gamelog because I’m curious if it’s even real, but he’s shooting over 80% from three and and 67% on all other FGs according to eurobasket.

AC: Yeah, I had a look myself recently. Its NBA Jam-esqe stuff. Do you think Zhejiang Bulls are going to get a spot?

EB: I think they will but Smith, like Chandler, is another player I would watch as the end of the CBA season approaches and they return to the NBA- he needs to stay healthy to get that next contract. He probably won’t be doing anything too wild now, especially with his sister getting into an altercation recently.

AC: Yeah, i saw it. I think it was interesting that JR Smith has got himself all this attention. It hasn’t felt like K-Mart and Chandler have all this exposure. There does seem to be a bit of a circus going on whenever JR is involved.

EB: Kinda represents his style of play and his erratic way of doing things. He’s just a crazy dude.

AC: When Smith leaves, I think his departure will put a dozen writers out of work. There seems to be a cottage industry based around churning out stories about ‘ JR Smith doing [x]‘. Could the club have protected him more or is this just ”JR being JR’, so to speak?

EB: They probably should have had some preventative measures in place. If they did their homework on him, they would know that he attracts a lot of attention

AC: Alright, last question. Last night, James Singleton decided he was going to bait a capacity Yuanshen crowd in the final quarter of the game and seemed to be revelling in the boos like a heel in a WWE event. For your money, who is the best or most notable villain in the CBA?

EB: I can’t remember who it was, but one of Shanghai’s Chinese players was doing the cocking motion (as if he had a gun) after making a shot, and then putting his hand to his ear because he wanted to hear the crowd.

AC: I’m still really curious to work out who that Shanghai player was. They all seem like such nice young boys who’d help old ladies across the road and always open doors for people. It wasn’t a small guard with light hair and a hefty fringe was it? [I'm thinking of Meng Lingyuan because this sounds exactly like the sort of thing he'd could do when he gets his obligatory fourth quarter adrenaline rush- AC]

EB: I don’t think so. The crowd absolutely hated your short bald guy, although I might be totally wrong and it could have been in the previous game.

AC: I think so – all of our guys are impressively hirsute; they’ve all got the regulation floppy cut. It’s like a K-Pop band strolled out onto the court at times [It is probably Shandong Lions, who were the previous visitors to Hangzhou before Shanghai came to town. The player in question is Sun Jie, who is unquestionably a pest of a player- AC].

EB: On the flipside, PJ is fantastic at getting the crowd going. He will flex and shout after a dunk, and wave his hands in the air to get the crowd on its feet.

AC: I think its written into Harris’ contract that he has to do the same in Shanghai. Tseng Wen-ting is also a kind of a cult hero here. He’s a towering bear of a man with a huge ponytail, massive beard and a nice line in dropping big threes. Its a shame he’s such a nice guy because when you look like Genghis Khan, which he absolutely does, I’d like to see him indulge in some merciless posterising of unsuspecting opposition players and other general bad ass’ery. That said, I also absolutely think its Ramos’ destiny to stay in the CBA and blossom into this force of nature who doesn’t care about what you think. It would be fantastic; baiting crowds, shouting the odds, dunking on people because he can- marvelous.

EB: I don’t think he has any intentions of trying to make it in the NBA, and I’ve been told he could definitely make a team but that he likes it here [in Hangzhou].

AC: Lets hope Ramos is still flexing the guns and terrifying away fans for years to come. Anyway, last week it was cheerleaders, this week its James Singleton and PJ Ramos. Times changes real quick. Have a good holiday, sir.

EB: Thanks. You too.

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NiuBBall CBA Water Cooler/Heater: The half-way mark

December 29, 2011

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The NiuBBall water cooler/heater: Where you can chat with friends about hoops while sipping either hot or cold water.

This piece was originally posted on Shark Fin Hoops before Round 17.

Round 17 is in the books and just like that, the 2011-12 CBA season is at its half-way point. To mark the occasion, the NiuBBall duo of Andrew Crawford and Edward Bothfeld took some time out to chat about the year so far, including the Beijing Ducks’ surprising run to first place, the comings and goings of Crawford’s hometown Shanghai Sharks and Bothfeld’s hometown Guangsha Lions, the always relevant Stephon Marbury and a whole bunch of other stuff.

Andrew Crawford: Well, its been a pretty crazy first half of the season so let’s talk first about the league before we get into our teams; despite two loses in a row, Beijing are setting the pace with a 13-2 record- do you think they can go deep into the play-offs or is this two-game losing streak a sign that teams have started to figure them out?

Edward Bothfeld: Thirteen wins in a row is no joke. They have two important players who have more than a season of CBA experience each. One of which, Stephon Marbury, is a former NBA All-Star and is immensely talented. That being said, teams now have a lot of tape of the Ducks to look at, and can be more prepared. The season is long and pretty constant so nagging injuries and fatigue may be starting to rear their heads. Their remaining schedule is pretty friendly and they have almost twice as many home games as away game remaining so they will be a tough out in the playoffs.

AC: You might notice this when your Lions play the Ducks on Dec 28th but Marbury is a game changer in some unpredictable ways; at times he can nullify a home crowd. I mean, he was being cheered by the Shanghai crowd last night and he plays for Beijing!

EB: He attracts a lot of attention because of his name and history. Being cheered by the home crowd is just respect. There’s no doubt that the majority of the time, he’s the most talented player on the court. Also, not enough attention has been given to how well he has adapted to Chinese culture. If you remember, he didn’t have a good departure from the NBA – the strange videos he posted on the internet, failed playoff run with the Celtics and his time with the Knicks was an absolute disaster. Now it seems he is really happy [in Beijing], doing what he loves and serving as a role model for other foreign players — like J.R. Smith

AC: All very true. He certainly looks happier in Beijing; his company’s taking off and he’s a basketball hero out here. The days of being run out of New York must seem like a long way away. Anyway, let’s move on; what are your thoughts on Xinjiang Tigers; they’ve fired Bob Donewald and Kenyon Martin looks like he wants out; do you thing the Tigers are in trouble even at 9-5 or was this a knee jerk reaction?

EB: I don’t think the knee jerk reaction was wise and now they are in definite trouble. They had a very expensive offseason — and are already blowing it up before the season is halfway done! It takes time for coaches to put their systems in place and for players to get to know each other. What happened to Donewald wasn’t exactly fair. Sources have told me that the Xinjiang management puts a TON of pressure on its players; the expectations are so high there.

AC: Do you think things could get worse?

EB: They lost one game last year and have already dropped five this year. They’ve also fired their high profile coach and bought out Kenyon Martin; I don’t know how it can get any worse! That being said, I don’t know what Xinjiang were expecting from K-Mart- 30 point and 15 rebound performances? Those days are long behind him

AC: Strong stuff, sir. Finally, what’s your take on Jiangsu Dragons; NiuBBall had them 3rd in their preseason rankings and instead the boys from Nanjing find themselves bottom of the league, below even Tianjin Lions, who are historically terrible. What’s gone wrong there?

EB: I saw them play last night. Despite their history of success, they are very mediocre this year; they are already on their second set of imports and I don’t know if Marcus Williams is a long-term answer. To put it kindly, he looks very “muscular”; it looks like he has packed on a few pounds. Also, like Xinjiang, Jiangsu need time to work with one another so making so many changes makes it difficult to truly become a team. I have talked with [Guangsha Lion's] Coach Jim Cleamons multiple times. As a rookie CBA coach, he always stresses to me that Guangsha is a work in process and they probably won’t be going on all cylinders until much later this year.

AC: Well, let’s talk about your boys, Guangsha; 11-4 after Round 16- would you have taken this at the start of the season?

EB: Yes. Having P.J. Ramos has really helped- he has taken some of the burden off Wilson Chandler and they have a very functional basketball team; everyone has a role.

AC: I’ve noticed you’ve been very big on the form of P.J. Ramos; has anyone else stood out for you so far besides him and Chandler?

EB: Jin Lipeng gets points. He is only playing 17 minutes a game, but is fourth on the team with 11.3 points. Lin Chih Chieh is our glue guy. He is incredibly scrappy and although he can be too cute sometimes (making fancy passes etc), he gets it done. Some games, he will go off for 20, sometimes he will only get 4 points but he always leaves an impression on the game. If Lipeng and Lin are on their games, Guangsha is hard to beat

AC: Yeah, when Guangsha came to Shanghai last month, I could see Lin had some sparkle to him and Chandler seems to enjoy playing with him. We’ve obviously got to talk about Chandler when we talk about Guangsha; how do you feel he’s been used in that team and do you feel that Coach Cleamons is under pressure to use him as much as possible?

EB: Having worked with Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, etc., Coach Cleamons is no spring chicken when it comes to using star players effectively. Guangsha’s GM sits on the bench with the team during games (you might notice her as she is the only female and looks like one tough cookie)  so everyone is on the same page in terms of when Chandler is playing, etc.

AC: This could essentially be a league-wide question, but how do you think CBA teams like Guangsha will be able to build on their post-Chandler season in 2012-13? I’ve met people who argue that bringing in big names creates a ‘pass-to-the-superstar’ mentality and a team’s progression gets stunted as a result

EB: Before it was Wilson Chandler, it was Rodney White; a team will always have a go-to player and they will most likely be the import players. If you look at most CBA rosters, teams have two imports, one big man and one back court player. If you bring in players with the same skill-sets each season, the role players don’t have as much difficulty adjusting.

AC: Do you think teams like Jiangsu and Xinjiang have had weaker seasons because they hadn’t scouted players with the same skill sets as the guys who were there during the previous season?

EB: Losing Quincy Douby really hurt Xinjiang. He was their team last year so they were going to have a different dynamic once he was lost, but Jiangsu had Antoine Wright last year- he has a different style than Marcus Williams, not to mention plays a different position.

AC: All very true. Well seeing as I write for a website about the Shanghai Sharks, we should probably talk about them as well. The Sharks appear to have hit form at the right time and have won five out of their last six games; do you think they can squeak into the play-offs or is their bad start too much to overcome?

EB: Why not? At 7-8, they are only a few games out of fourth place; suddenly games against the likes of Xinjiang and Jiangsu are winnable when in the past you could mark those up as losses. The Sharks absolutely have a shot to be in the playoffs despite a slow start.

AC: Journalistic integrity aside, I would love to see them make it  but their away form has been so bad until the last couple of games that I wonder if it will be too much to overcome. We’re 5-1 at home but on the road, it’s not been anywhere near as stellar and going to Xinjiang and Beijing so late in the season is still a big ask in my books, even if we continue to grow in confidence.

EB: Yep, times are always tough on the road.

AC: Indeed. Any Shanghai players you expect to see in the All-Star game come March?

EB: Mike Harris can fill it up. If Shanghai continues on their current run, Harris or Ryan Forehan-Kelly could warrant an All-Star bid.

AC: Absolutely. For my money, Forehan-Kelly has been the star of that team. Harris has got the big dunks and gets the crowd going but RFK has been consistently clutch throughout the season. Okay, last question; like me, you probably have a fantasy basketball team. Should I be picking up a Chandler or a J.R. Smith and storing him for when they return to America in March/April time or will their impact be negligible after playing one intense season already?

EB: I would say the chances are high that one of the high-profile Americans over here will be playing in the NBA Finals.

AC: You buying Bill Simmons’ theory that a returning K-Mart is the Heat’s missing piece to all but confirm the 2012 championship?

EB: He could be- there are always veterans like K-Mart that championship contenders add to push them over the top. I mean, Marbury was supposed to be that player with the Celtics a few years ago

AC: Alright; we should probably call it quits but thanks for your thoughts. There’s a lot of really interesting stuff here and I hope we can do this again sometime

EB: For sure, Any time. I enjoyed it.

AC: Excellent stuff. I’ll let you get back to the daily grid but there’s a beer waiting for you when we next come face to face.

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Friday Afternoon Bubble Tea

August 5, 2011

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It’s Beijing, it’s summer, it’s hot. So cool down with some bubble tea (with ice), chill out and take in these afternoon links.

  • As we recapped yesterday, both Titan Weekly and the Chengdu Daily reported that several CBA teams have offered deals worth over $1 million a month to superstars like Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade. According to the Chengdu Daily, Wade was offered $2 million a month by Zhejiang Guangsha. But, according to a source speaking with NiuBBall, Chinese reports have been exaggerated. “There’s no way any CBA team is going to fork over $2 or $3 million for one player,” said the source. “With these new rules, there’s too much risk.” Guangsha’s GM, Ye Xiangyu, publicly denied the report.
  • John Lucas III, who has played the last two years in Shanghai, out-gunned some dude named Kevin Durant a couple days ago at Rucker Park. Maybe most of the domestic players aren’t anything to write home to the States about, but as we’ve maintained throughout this blog’s soon-to-be one-year existence, the imports here can ball.
  • Taiwanese-American Jeremy Lin is considering playing in Taiwan next year, according to the China Post. Why not China, you ask? Because he has an American passport, that’s why. Taiwan passport-holding players are considered as domestic players in the CBA, but since Lin would have dual-citizenship if he were to obtain his Taiwanese passport, the would be ruled as an American import player. And though Lin can ball well enough to probably warrant a spot on a roster as an import, CBA teams traditionally do not go after young players. So with little interest in China, Lin would be smart to look at his native Taiwan.
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Teams searching for ways to get NBA superstars to China

August 4, 2011

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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

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Are Chinese fans bored of Stephon Marbury?

January 5, 2011

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As someone who understands the difficulty of adapting to life China, I’m generally down with Stephon Marbury.  While an entire starting lineup of ex-NBA players have already left — some before even playing a single game — Marbury remains dedicated to playing and developing his business plans in the People’s Republic almost one year since his arrival here, even after almost being shut out of the league (under extremely shady circumstances).

While some guys were content to coast along on their name alone, Marbury has taken his on-court role more seriously and has also maintained meaningful interaction with his Chinese fans. His success last year ultimately brought along other NBA players looking for a check, but hardly any have been able to stick.

To me, that says something about Steph.  He’s doing things — playing here, living here, doing business out here and seemingly liking it all the while — that other big-name NBA players failed miserably at. I may just be a sucker for China, but I think that’s worth something.

Cool as that may be, however, Chinese fans aren’t as enamored.  This report published last week by the Metropolitan Express in Hangzhou after Marbury’s team, Foshan, lost away at Zhejiang Guangsha wonders if notoriously fickle Chinese fans have already become bored with watching Marbury play (via Sina).

Stephon Marbury came, but he’s leaving a little bit early.  In Foshan’s away game last night [December 26th] against [Zhejiang Guangsha], he was subbed off for the final 5 minutes and 45 seconds.  When he went off, the stadium also started to leave early.  With Guangsha up 30, only about half of the people stayed to see the final 115 – 80 score.

“It was the fourth quarter, I played him for six minutes, didn’t I? There was five minutes left, there’s no way we were coming back from 30 down,” said Foshan’s head coach, Jay Humphries. For [Steve] Francis’ first game in Beijing, head coach [Min Lulei] let him get into the game because the crowd was swearing at him; when Marbury left the game early, the Hangzhou crowd was instead very calm.  Because they saw him play 30 minutes,  there was no feeling of dissatisfaction… This was the so-called ‘biggest-name NBA import’s’ second time coming to Hangzhou, and it really wasn’t that great.

Last year, Marbury set the CBA on fire playing for Shanxi Zhongyu, averaging 22.9 points, 5.9 rebounds and 9.5 assists in 15 games, delighting fans in his team’s hometown of Taiyuan and selling out every arena his team went to.  And his 30 point, 10 assist MVP performance at at the CBA All-Star game was considered by many as the dopest thing to ever happen to Chinese basketball since… well, ever.

But, this year it’s been a different story.  Playing for newly relocated Foshan this year however after being released by Shanxi just before the start of the season, Steph’s production has dropped off to much more pedestrian levels of 16-5-5.  At the time of the story, Foshan was sitting 15th out of 17 teams, although they have since improved to 11th.

Besides his dip in play, there might also be another reason why Chinese fans are yawning at the prospect of paying to see Starbury play: they all saw him play last year:

Everyone knows right now the CBA only has one former NBA All-Star, but fans in Hangzhou still didn’t buy tickets for Marbury. This game’s attendance compared to last Sunday’s against DongGuan — a typical, run of the mill match — was only slightly larger. When Marbury’s Shanxi team came last year, the entire stadium was packed. Why can’t Marbury attract a crowd?  Guangsha GM, Ye Xiangyu, explained.

“One reason is that everyone saw him once last year. Seeing him was new and exciting; this year not so much, so they’re not going to come again. Second is because of the the whole Francis thing, everyone thinks that all big name NBA stars are all like that.”

As I’ve already argued, Marbury is quite different than a player like Francis, who left a mere two weeks after first showing up out of shape, then flipping the bird at a ref before finally refusing outright to practice. Of course, Ye says this after a former NBA player of his own, Javaris Crittenton, left the team because of his questionable commitment to China.

The article goes on to detail the overall mood at the game and quotes a player who thinks that Marbury’s ability may have slipped since last year:

Other than Guangsha’s die-hard fans, almost everyone came to see Marbury. Every time Marbury came onto the court or made a shot, he elicited a few cheers. Even when he went off for good earlier than expected, the audience responded with applause. But it was obvious that there were few fans who felt really excited about seeing him.

The day before the match, Marbury told the media during practice that he would play hard. In 30 minutes, you can’t say that he didn’t put forth an effort, but his performance wasn’t that far off from just a common CBA import player: 4-14 shooting for only 13 points.

Said Wang Xiaofei, one of the Guangsha players who guarded him during the game, “I learned a lot of things from him this game… When these big name players first came, I was definitely playing a little tight. Now, I’m not nervous. He’s old. I feel I can play with him.”

Should Marbury be worried? It’s never a good thing when some young cat, Chinese or not, is calling you old. China is not unlike any other basketball sneaker market. His ability to sell himself and his brand to Chinese depends on how well he and his team plays, and right now, neither are playing very well. Mixed in with China’s famously fickle fans, and Marbury’s grand ambitions for taking the Chinese shoe market by storm may not be the slam-dunk that everyone thought it’d be just a few months ago.

The article concludes by stating what is obvious to pretty much everyone: NBA players aren’t coming back to China anytime soon.

Trying to transform shaky NBA players into CBA model citizens, Marbury’s success in China is a legend never to be reduplicated again. But looking at his his gradually dropping fame and ability, it’s safe to say that the gold rush to bring NBA players to the CBA will pass.

Said Ye Xiangyu, “When we choose imports next season, there will definitely be a big change. Teams will look for players who can still play, not for players who are famous.”

Follow Jon Pastuszek on Twitter @NiuBBall

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Zhejiang GM: “We want an NBA star-level guard”

September 23, 2010

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Zhejiang’s been all over the place the last few weeks, first throwing their names into the Quincy Douby race, then into rumors with Flip Murray and Rafer Alston.  Now, it appears as they’re going with any old NBA combo guard who’s currently unemployed, talking with both Cuttino Mobley and Jamaal Tinsley.

Zhejiang GM, Ye Xiangyu: ”We want an NBA star-level guard, but we won’t just blindly sign anybody.  We’ll definitely take a look both their attitude and ability.”

Yeah, right.  If this really is turning into an arms race to see who can get the best ex-NBA baller, I’m sure a mid-market team like Zhejiang would gladly take any one of those guys.  Otherwise, they wouldn’t be so vocal with their interest.

Whatever happens, with all of these ball-dominating guards coming over, somebody is going to be pissed when they’re left out from starting the CBA All-Star game.

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Alston, noticing trend among shoot-first PGs, talks to Zhejiang

September 22, 2010

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Allen Iverson, Steve Francis, Flip Murray and now Rafer Alston are all known to be talking to various CBA teams about playing in China next year.

According to this ESPN Star report, Alston is in discussions with Zhejiang.  The team’s GM, Ye Xiangyu, confirmed interest and shared that contact was made after Alston’s agent suggested the idea of playing in China to him.  Alston, like Francis, played with Yao Ming and the Rockets and is therefore widely known in China by both hardcore and moderate fans of the game.

Preferring to play in the NBA next year, Alston, who was suspended indefinitely by the Heat last March for reportedly going AWOL after being replaced in the starting lineup by Carlos Arroyo, finds himself without a contract or an invite to training camp one month before the season.

UPDATE: The Hoops Market says Alston is waiting for an offer from the Knicks.

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