Sports Blog: NBA players trickling back in from Chinese leagues

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Months ago, before negotiations took a surprisingly constructive turn, it seemed the NBA’s lockout would engulf the entire season. Foreseeing the standstill, many NBA players jumped to numerous leagues overseas, ensuring themselves a paycheck during the NBA’s tumultuous negotiation process.

Under many of these foreign contracts, NBA players could opt out once the lockout ended. Players like Deron Williams, who played a few months in a Turkish league, returned to the states in time for training camp with relatively little hassle.

Players who signed contracts in China, however, haven’t been as lucky.

[pullquote]“I made a decision. You make a decision, you live with it.” — Wilson Chandler[/pullquote]

Under the contractual rules of the Chinese Basketball Association, players must stay the entire season (plus the playoffs, if their team makes it that far). With the Chinese league’s regular season just finishing, NBA players like Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith are finally returning to the league they thought wouldn’t have a season.

Martin, who played overseas with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers, is now back in the NBA fold, playing for the Los Angeles Clippers. J.R. Smith, who just completed a season with the Zhejiang Chouzhou Golden Bulls, signed with the New York Knicks last weekend and played his first game of the season on Sunday.

Smith, a key member of the Nuggets for the previous five seasons, made quite the debut Sunday, finishing with 15 points in a 104-97 win over the visiting Dallas Mavericks.

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Martin, a teammate of Smith’s in Denver, hasn’t fared as well in his first seven games with the Clippers. Averaging only 5.0 ppg and 4.4 rpg, Martin has struggled to find a place in a competitive front court that features DeAndre Jordan and all-star Blake Griffin. Martin has chalked up his rusty start to conditioning.

In all of this, it seems the Denver Nuggets have been the most affected by the Chinese league contracts. With Smith and Martin now on other teams, the Nuggets still hope to re-sign Wilson Chandler, another former Nugget who  signed a contract with the CBA. Chandler’s Zhejiang Lions are still in the postseason, which ends Mar. 28.

“I made a decision,” Chandler told New York Times writer Jim Yardley. “You make a decision, you live with it.”

That decision, however, was apparently made fully aware of its probable consequences.

“We had 15 different conversations about what happens when the lockout ends,” said Chris Luchey, Wilson’s agent told the New York Times. “I told him 100 times: ‘The season is going to go. There is going to be a season.’”

Unlike Martin and Smith, Chandler plans on returning to the Nuggets. Wilson was in attendance at the Nuggets’ 103-101 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves Monday night.

According to Aaron J. Lopez, the primary writer for Nuggets.com, Wilson wants to sign a contract with the Nuggets “in the next week or so.”

“A long-term deal would be fine,” Chandler said. “Hopefully I can get back and help the team out.”

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