Denver Nuggets swingman Wilson Chandler made a risky decision last week, becoming the second NBA free-agent, joining Orlando's Earl Clark, to sign with Zhejiang Guangsha of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA). Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Thursday that Nuggets free-agent guard J.R. Smith is nearing an agreement on the richest contract in CBA history. While the CBA restricts its teams from signing players currently under contract, free agents are fair game.
Although it offers more money than European clubs, the Chinese league declared it would not provide players with out clauses that would allow them to return to the NBA if the league-imposed lockout ends. For the Bulls, that would mean two potential shooting guard fits in Chandler and Smith would be off the free-agent market.
However, there's a growing belief that players will find a way around the CBA's ruling in order to return to the NBA if the 2011-12 season is salvaged.
"China is a bit different (than Euroleague teams) because they have taken a league-wide stance that they simply will not give out clauses," said agent Bernie Lee, whose clients include Bulls guard John Lucas III and free agents Rashad McCants and Mike James. "In China, some teams normally do have a high turnover of Americans."
"Zheijiang Guangsha, for instance, I want to say went through four or five Americans over the course of their season last year. So, if they were to release Wilson at some point in the year, it wouldn't be totally out of left field for this team."
Reports initially had Chandler -- who will head to China on September 10 to begin training -- landing with Italy's Olimpia Milano, which, like most European League squads, plays just one game a week. The CBA schedule, meanwhile, calls for a 50-game regular-season that runs from November to March. For players looking to play as much competitive basketball as possible during a prolonged lockout, participating in three games a week with a CBA team might do the trick.
"The NBA teaches guys to become creatures of habit, and come the fall, for them it's meant getting into season mode and playing basketball. The removal of that would be challenging to some guys," Lee said. "Second, we are talking about guys from the ages of 20-to-35 with a time limit, in terms of aging, on their talent. Asking a player to sit out a year while physically capable of doing something they have a truly incredible talent for and ability to do would be tough for any upper echelon talent in the world.
"Ultimately, it's going to come down to money in a lot of cases. What's attractive about China is: they play a condensed schedule compared to European teams, as the season is over in about five months instead of 10, and (CBA teams) pay more money. In a lot of cases, it is a no-brainer on paper.
"The decision to choose a job without an opt-out is a risky one for some guys. But honestly, you never know what goes into a guy's decision; nothing happens without a great deal of thought."
Aside from taking on risks, Smith and Chandler, 26 and 24, respectively, might have to deal with another issue: loneliness.
"I can see (the long training camp) being a challenge, since the regular-season doesn’t start until mid-November. Going over now is about eight weeks of camp, and for any veteran NBA player the one thing that they will tell you is that it's a monotonous camp," Lee explained. "Last year in China, I spent a week with a client I had on a team in Zhejiang, and two times a day, like clockwork, the guys are going to the gym and getting their work in -- day in, day out. It begins to take on a bit of a groundhog day theme.
"And when you add in the isolation of being in China, away from the comforts of home and family, it can get tough. For each player it has to become a personal decision, the ins and outs of which ultimately can't be known by anyone else. (Chandler's decision) is a clear stance, as an outsider, that he believes there will be a prolonged work stoppage."
The CBA presents a viable option for players in an extended lockout, but in the event the NBA and players union reach a collective bargaining agreement, it's hard to imagine Chandler and Smith, two established American players, residing in China this upcoming season.
If the NBA lockout is resolved in time, will the CBA stay true to its word, prohibit players from leaving before the completion of the Chinese season?
"Something tells me, with my experiences of working in China, that you might see a few exceptions to this rule," Lee said.