Nuggets’ Smith signs to play in China

Wilson Chandler will have some company in China this season. Fellow Denver Nuggets free agent J.R. Smith is following him overseas.

Another teammate, Ty Lawson, is taking his game abroad as well, electing to play in Lithuania. Unlike Chandler and Smith, Lawson will be able to cut short his overseas adventure should the lockout end in time for there to be an NBA season.

The NBA owners and players are divided over a salary cap structure and have made no significant progress in talks to end the lockout. No more meetings are scheduled.

Even if the issues are resolved in time for there to be a 2011-12 NBA season, Chandler and Smith won’t be able to return to play in the NBA until the end of the Chinese season, which runs through March.

Both of them are betting the lockout lasts a while and they’d rather play in the Chinese Basketball Association than in pickup games at the gym while waiting for the NBA to get going again.

Smith’s agent, Leon Rose, confirmed to The Associated Press on Wednesday that Smith signed a one-year contract with Zhejiang because ”J.R. really wants to play basketball this season.”

”His decision to accept the deal was based on the uncertainty of the NBA labor negotiations, a significant offer from the club and the unique opportunity to play the game he loves in another country that loves its basketball,” Rose wrote in an email. ”J.R. is looking forward to the challenge.”

Smith, 26, explained the reasons for his decision to leave on his Twitter account and said that he intends to play in the NBA again.

”How many chance have you had to do what you love an ppl in another country can appreciate it…,” Smith wrote.

Last month, Chandler, a restricted free agent, signed with Zhejiang Guangsha of the Chinese league. The 24-year-old Chandler will play for former NBA coach Jim Cleamons.

And while Smith joins a squad in the same province, he won’t be playing on Chandler’s team. Instead, Smith will be teammates with former University of Connecticut standout Josh Boone.

Chandler wished Smith well on Twitter, saying in a tweet: ”Congrats to my brody.”

The exodus of Nuggets players to China might not end with Chandler and Smith. Kenyon Martin also is reportedly considering playing in Asia.

Smith averaged 12.3 points and 2.2 assists as the Nuggets’ sixth man last season. He’s long been a fan favorite for his 3-point shooting and his electric dunks. But he sometimes draws the ire of coach George Karl for his befuddling shot selection.