China could block NBA players return

The Chinese Basketball Association is showing no inclination to let unhappy NBA players out of their contracts for the 2011-12 season, and will likely mandate they not receive clearance letters to return to the NBA until the Chinese season ends in March, sources told Yahoo! Sports.

Wilson Chandler(notes), Kenyon Martin(notes), J.R. Smith(notes) and Aaron Brooks(notes) are the four top NBA players under contract in China, and several sources involved in those contract entanglements said escape clauses won’t be allowed with the impending end of the NBA lockout.

The Chinese Basketball Association passed a rule that its teams could sign only NBA free agents during the lockout, and it was made clear to those players they would have to play the full season to be given FIBA clearance letters to sign contracts with NBA teams.

J.R. Smith is one of three Nuggets free agents playing in China.
(NBAE/Getty Images)

Smith has had multiple clashes with his team, and some Chinese officials fear players becoming obstinate and purposely missing practices and games once they realize they’ll be held to their contracts.

Team officials have prepared for the possibility some players could try to force their way out of deals, but their contracts give teams the latitude to fine and suspend players without pay. Chinese teams invested heavily when they signed NBA players, also providing hotel suites, personal drivers and chefs to make the players more comfortable.

“They can play, get paid [in China] and return to the NBA in March,” one Chinese team official said. “Or they can not get paid, and return to the NBA in March.”

As a member of FIBA, the NBA needs a letter of clearance from Chinese teams to allow players to sign NBA deals. Chinese teams could face forfeiture of any games that NBA players participated in, if the players somehow end up back in the NBA before the Chinese season ends.

“If they think that they’re going to make things difficult, not play, create problems, what’s going to happen is that the teams will not release their letters of clearance they’ll need to sign in the NBA,” a Chinese Basketball Association official told Yahoo! Sports. “There’s no way out.”

[ Related: Who are NBA’s top 15 free agents? ]

Smith, Chandler and Martin, who signed a $3 million contract with the Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers, played for the Denver Nuggets a season ago, but the team has interest in re-signing only Chandler, league sources said. Chandler was a key player for the Nuggets after the Carmelo Anthony(notes) trade with the Knicks.

So far, Chandler – averaging 33 points for the Zhejiang Guangsha Lions – has been the most dominant player in the Chinese Basketball Association. On and off the floor, Chandler has required far less maintenance than his two former Nuggets teammates. Smith has constantly clashed with Zhejiang Chouzhou Golden Bulls officials since arriving in China, and the complaints about him include missed practices, allegedly faking injuries and relentless demands on living conditions and transportation.

Yi Jianlian(notes) can return to the NBA immediately because he has a Chinese passport that allowed him to sign with the Guangdong Hongyuan Southern Tigers regardless of the league’s NBA free-agent rule. He’s expected to be sidelined two to three weeks after spraining his right knee in a recent game, but plans to sign with an NBA team after free agency starts on Dec. 9.

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Adrian Wojnarowski is the NBA columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Adrian a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Monday, Nov 28, 2011