China fighting decision to let Martin return to NBA

Chinese Basketball Association officials are fighting FIBA’s decision to allow Kenyon Martin to immediately return to the NBA, demanding that Martin be forbidden to play until later this month, sources told Yahoo! Sports.

China has forwarded an affidavit to FIBA and the NBA – signed by Martin upon his departure in late December – that stipulates he wouldn’t play in the NBA until his Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers’ season had ended. China is demanding the contract be honored and Martin have to wait until the Flying Tigers finish their season.

The Flying Tigers have six games left and need a winning streak to catapult them into the playoffs. Their final regular-season game is Feb. 16..

Kenyon Martin averaged 14 points and seven rebounds in China.
(Getty Images)

Chinese Basketball Association officials are insisting the clearance letter request was deliberately sent to their office over the New Year when they wouldn’t be available to respond. After seven days without a response, FIBA’s guidelines allow it to issue the letter of clearance that all international leagues – including the NBA – need to validate that a player has fulfilled contractual obligations elsewhere.

In truth, Martin is expected to work out for a week with any NBA team he joins before becoming activated. So even if the NBA reverses its ruling, Martin could likely still be back on the floor in two weeks.

China carries significant importance for the NBA commissioner David Stern, who has worked relentlessly to cultivate a business partnership with his league and the world’s largest country. What’s more, there’s been a strong belief within the global basketball community that the NBA discouraged China from signing its players under contract during the lockout. Several teams were close to negotiating deals with such stars as Kobe Bryant, Blake Griffin and Tony Parker before the CBA declared its teams would only sign free agents.

Other American players in China and their agents are irate over Martin’s early clearance to return to the NBA. J.R. Smith and Wilson Chandler were pleading cases on Thursday about getting themselves out of China and back to the NBA sooner than later.

“Right now, it’s a huge distraction for teams,” one international official told Yahoo! Sports. “Players are angry, want out now, and this is a huge investment that’s blowing up in the face of [Chinese] teams and owners.”

Martin has visited with several NBA teams interested in signing him, including the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday, and will huddle with agent Andy Miller in New York over the weekend to reach a decision. The Los Angeles Clippers and Miami Heat are leaders for Martin, but the Hawks, Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks and San Antonio Spurs remain in pursuit of him.

New York has faded from contention in recent weeks, sources said, because of more pressing guard needs. The Clippers can pay Martin the mini midlevel exception for a pro-rated $2.5 million for the season.

“The Clippers are probably the best place for [Martin] to showcase himself for his next deal,” one rival front-office executive said. “He’s clearly the third-best [big man] without competition from anyone on their roster.”

Martin reached an agreement with the Flying Tigers to part ways on Dec. 21, and returned to the United States shortly thereafter.

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Martin, 34, didn’t play particularly well in China, averaging 14 points and seven rebounds in a league with few NBA-quality big men.

Denver, who doesn’t want Martin back, is unlikely to be granted the chance to conduct a sign-and-trade agreement with his next team, league sources said. Under the new collective bargaining agreement, there’s a rule that limits teams from re-signing past players under contract to get value returned to them in a deal.

For now, China’s letter-of-clearance rule still stands for Smith, Chandler and Aaron Brooks. Smith’s team has slumped, and could miss the playoffs. If so, Smith could return to the NBA by the All-Star break in February. Chandler and Aaron Brooks are on teams that could make playoff runs well into March.

Smith is an unrestricted free agent, and Chandler and Brooks are restricted free agents, likely to re-sign with Denver and Phoenix, respectively. Smith has significant interest around the NBA, including the Lakers, Knicks, Spurs and several more potential contenders.

Martin had signed a deal worth $2.6 million for the Chinese season, but was paid only a prorated salary based on the 12 games.

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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 Friday, Feb 3, 2012