Earlier this week, Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski wrote a column detailing the frustrations of several ex-NBA players that had signed free-agent contracts to play with the Chinese Basketball Association. Upon signing months ago, the players were told that the contracts were binding and could not be dissolved even if the NBA ended its lockout. The free agents in question essentially said "yeah, whatever" before asking for the pen and an eventual check, and now … crap. They kind of want to come back home.
And even though the NBA is now allowing teams to pay up to half a million dollars to aid players in potential CBA buyouts, don't expect to see Wilson Chandler or J.R. Smith in the NBA anytime soon, or at least before the CBA season ends in March.
There was a way around this, however. You could have what Smith and Chandler would probably term as the worst of both worlds -- playing with CBA players, not signing a contract with the league, and not getting paid. Of course, that route is now allowing Portland Trail Blazers wing Luke Babbitt to play stateside later this month.
For three weeks in August, Babbitt left the United States for Shanghai, working out with his long-time personal trainer Todd Troxel and playing with members of the Shanghai Sharks, a Chinese Basketball Association team owned by former NBA All-Star center Yao Ming.
"It was a long summer," Babbitt said Wednesday after going through a workout at the Blazers' practice facility in Tualatin. "Guys were looking for stuff to do. We didn't have a facility to work out at, we didn't have games to play. And he's the guy that I've trained with my whole life, my whole basketball career. So I wanted to train with him. He was in China (with the Sharks), so I went to him."
OK, perhaps Babbitt didn't take a different route. Smith and Chandler were free agents, after all, and it was against CBA rules during their last offseason to sign NBA players (like Babbitt) that were under contract. Even if the NBA had decided that it wasn't going to hold up their collectively bargained end of his contract.
It is a long way to go for a few weeks' worth of workouts, though, and a pretty interesting experience I'm sure. Not only did Babbitt get to immerse himself in the most varied and layered brand of cuisine on the planet, but the second-year forward was allowed to continue to refine his game with someone, in Troxel, that he clearly trusts enough to follow halfway around the world.
And, sadly, it appears as if Babbitt (who sometimes took part in three workouts per day, plus scrimmages) didn't really take to the cuisine as much as we'd hoped he would. From Joe Freeman's feature:
Turns out Chinese food didn't suit him so much.
"That's why I came back after three weeks," Babbitt said, laughing. "I drink a lot of milk. They don't do dairy over there. I don't know what it is. They have milk, but it's a different kind of milk. And it's just nasty. So I had to get out of there."
Raise a glass, Luke. The NBA is back.