Martin, 34, spent part of the season playing in China and could still have his Clippers debut delayed until the middle of this season as Chinese Basketball Association officials petition FIBA and the NBA to honor his signed agreement. FIBA gave Martin a clearance letter to play immediately in the NBA this week after China officials were slow to respond to a request made over the Chinese New Year.
The Los Angeles Times first reported Martin's agreement with the Clippers.
The Chinese Basketball Association 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.
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 the Clippers 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 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.
Martin had visited with several NBA teams interested in signing him before deciding on the Clippers.
“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 after. He didn't play particularly well in China, averaging 14 points and seven rebounds in a league with few NBA-quality big men. He had signed a deal worth $2.6 million for the Chinese season but was paid only a prorated salary based on the 12 games he played.
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.
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