Many NBA players who sought a paycheck abroad hedged their bets during the lockout by signing contracts with teams in Europe or the Middle East that allowed them to return to the NBA if the season was salvaged.
But for the handful of NBA free agents like Wilson Chandler, J.R. Smith, Patty Mills, Kenyon Martin and Aaron Brooks — who bet against a settlement by signing to play in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) — leaving is not so simple.
With the Chinese season already two weeks old, they are under contract to stay put. In addition to facing serious financial penalties if they leave, these players would not be able to sign with NBA teams. The NBA, as a member of FIBA — basketball’s governing body — is required to honor international contracts.
So as the glittery NBA season looms, they are slogging it out in China where salaries are not great, travel can be arduous, the accommodations are not always luxurious and the food is a constant adventure.
Martin, the former Denver Nugget who is averaging 15.7 points per game for the Xinjiang Flying Tigers, does not have any plans to ask out of his contract, said his agent, Andy Miller.
"He knew there was a chance the lockout could end and he’d be left sitting there."
While the Flying Tigers provided Martin with a driver and a personal chef, Miller said there have been some "growing pains" when it comes to cuisine. Martin went through three or four chefs until he found one who could prepare Western-style food to his satisfaction.
"The effort was there on both sides," Miller said, "but there’s no place like home, obviously."
It’s unclear whether the NBA players in China will seek ways to get out of their contracts — but it is unlikely. That is because the CBA offered no opt-out provisions: Players who signed with their teams would be contractually obligated to play for a full season, which extends into March.
Zhao Bing, the Golden Bulls’ general manager, said J.R. Smith’s contract with the team includes provisions for the team to be compensated if he does not complete the season. He declined to give financial details. Smith could not be reached for comment.
In a strange twist, the only CBA star who is making plans to return to the NBA this season is Chinese citizen Yi Jianlian, who is not subject to the same restrictive provisions in his contract.
Yi, who is affectionately known to fans as "A Lian," has been released by his team, the Guangdong Southern Tigers.
"The NBA lockout now comes to an end, so does A Lian’s performance in the CBA," said a statement posted on the team’s official Twitter-like microblog.