NBA PM: China Says NO!
Yesterday in this space we talked about the Euroleague’s unwillingness to allow NBA players to sign contracts with NBA-outs, meaning those players would leave as soon as the current NBA lockout lifts. Now we’re learning that China is going to follow suit.
There have been ongoing talks between basketball teams in China and NBA stars like Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant, who would benefit not only from playing competitive basketball but also increasing their branding in the most populous country on the planet.
Today we learn that China, like Europe, has no interest in signing part-time players; they’re only interested in players who will commit to an entire season, and that’s just not going to happen.
First and foremost, even the most lucrative deals from overseas teams can’t hold a candle to the multi-million-dollar deals player like Howard and Bryant already have in place from the Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers. More recently, Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki received an offer from a Chinese team, but that offer was for only $1.5 million for the season. Considering Nowitzki is scheduled to make better than $19 million from the Mavs next season it quickly becomes clear that China can’t hope to put together the kind of financial package it would take for a top star to turn away from the NBA.
At the end of the day, this is one of the many factors NBA Commissioner David Stern is counting on as he advises his owners to hold the line and push for radical changes to the economic structure of the league. Lower-level players have and will accept deals to play elsewhere, but the real stars of basketball aren’t going anywhere. They’re going to have to deal with the NBA if they want to continue living the lifestyle of the rich and famous.
As for Howard, he’s planning to forego further negotiations to play overseas and continue working on his offensive game. He’s looking to return to Houston for more time with Hall Of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon, and time spent with The Dream could turn out to be much more valuable for Dwight than any campaign overseas.
Orlando Magic forward Earl Clark has agreed to a deal with the Chinese team Zhejiang Guangxia, one that does not include an NBA-out clause.
Gay Takes The Court
As HOOPSWORLD’s Alex Kennedy reported this morning, Memphis Grizzlies star Rudy Gay took the court for the first time last night to shoot hoops for the first time since dislocating his shoulder in February. Thus opens one of the most important chapters in Grizzlies basketball, lockout or no lockout.
There are two major issues facing the Grizzlies this offseason, both in light of the tremendously successful playoff run they had last Spring. They upset the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs to advance to the second round, and then gave the heavily-favored Oklahoma City Thunder all they could handle before finally dropping out just short of the Western Conference Finals. What’s more, they did all of this without Rudy Gay, their team captain and spiritual leader.
If the Grizzlies can play that well without Gay, do they really need him back?
That’s the question many have been asking since that impressive playoff run.
Ownership and management in Memphis have been clear in saying they have no intention of trading Gay, as has been widely rumored, but they also have another important issue to address this summer, one that they may not be able to address without making a move to clear cap space. Highly-coveted starting center Marc Gasol is a restricted free agent, and the Grizzlies have offered up the $4.5 million qualifying offer. That only means the Grizzlies have to right to match any offer Gasol might receive from other teams during the offseason, offers that will most definitely come. The Houston Rockets have Gasol at the very top of their summer wish list, but they aren’t the only team that is salivating over the prospect of luring Gasol away from Memphis.
For his part, Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley has taken the position that if Gasol doesn’t want to be in Memphis – and sources have told HOOPSWORLD he isn’t sold on staying – he won’t spend the money to keep him in town.
The outlook for Memphis with Gasol in the middle and Gay on the wing is quite good. They might even become one of the new Western Conference powerhouses right alongside the Thunder. But if the new Collective Bargaining Agreement significantly reduces the salary cap and puts stricter rules in place and Gasol receives an offer that put him in the $10-12 million per season range, the Grizzlies might have to make a choice between their team leader and franchise cornerstone in Gay and their quickly-emerging starting center in Gasol.
That’s not a choice the Grizzlies want to have to make.
What’s Next For Yi?
Nature abhors a vacuum, the old saying goes, and in basketball circles a fairly large vortex opened up when Yao Ming was forced to call is a career due to injuries. Specifically, China lost the face of their basketball nation, and it’s not a void that will be easily filled. No Chinese player has ever captured the world’s imagination like Yao, who was the most dominant big man on the planet when he was healthy. Still, Yao’s retirement creates an opportunity for someone else to emerge, and the early indications are that Washington Wizards forward Yi Jianlian is at least willing to give it his best shot.
The Chinese national team isn’t faring so well without Yao, having just lost its seventh consecutive game. That’s hardly a surprise considering Yao once averaged 40 points and 20 rebounds per game while playing for China. Yi may not be able to fill that void, but he is looking to be more vocal and inspire his teammates to reach for new heights.
“I often face double or triple teams without Yao or Wang (Zhizhi) on the court, so other guys’ performances have to make a difference,” Yi said after his team’s most recent loss. “They have to keep moving and passing the ball smoothly to make space. That will make things much easier for me.”
Yi averaged 16.4 points and 8.4 rebounds over the course of the just concluded Stankovic tournament, leading the team in both categories. More importantly, he took on the leadership role he has avoided in the past, preferring instead to defer to the more senior Yao.
The question here becomes what implications Yi’s elevated status with his national team might have for his NBA career. Yi came to the NBA riding a wave of anticipation in the wake of Yao’s success, but he quickly went from the headlines to the sidelines as he became essentially a middle-of-the-pack player for first the Milwaukee Bucks and then the Washington Wizards. His 2010-11 averages (5.6 points, 3.9 rebounds) have many wondering if he has a future in the NBA at all. He could be a restricted free agent for the Wizards, but they opted not to extend him a qualifying offer when they did so for teammates Nick Young, Hamady Ndiaye, Othyus Jeffers and Larry Owens.
Perhaps taking a leadership role will help Yi not only make his mark on the Chinese national team, but also find his way back to the NBA. Odds are he will get another shot, even if it’s not in Washington, as he promises to bring a great deal of interest from the Chinese marketing community. Wherever that next opportunity comes, Yi needs to really show something in his next NBA stint. He’s one more bad year from fading back into the shadows of the international basketball world.
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