Only a handful of NBA players have officially signed to play in China during the NBA lockout, but another may not be too far behind. According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com (via Yahoo’s Scoop du Jour blog), Rodney Stuckey is being courted by the Guangdong Southern Tigers, and unlike many other NBA players, actually has the free agent status to make a deal with a Chinese team possible. The Chinese Basketball Association has outlawed the signing of players with existing contracts in other leagues (even if those leagues are inactive), and thus can only target restricted and unrestricted free agents among the suddenly available crop of NBA players.
It’s natural that Stuckey would be a target among the current free agents; he’s not exactly a stellar player, but Stuckey is nonetheless an intriguing, balanced talent capable of contributing across the board. He’d likely do very well in a stint with the Chinese Basketball Association, and in the process earn himself some lockout coin. So long as he’s willing to give up on the possibility of playing in the NBA through March, the Tigers could be a nice spot for Stuckey to spend a few months.
That said, Guangdong’s interest in Stuckey pales in comparison to the NBA’s mid-season reality if free agents continue to sign deals in China. As Marc Stein noted in his report, Yi Jianlian would be able to return to the NBA at a time of his choosing, but Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith, Wilson Chandler, and any player who isn’t a Chinese national would be obligated to remain in China until the CBA season wraps in March (at the earliest; championship-level teams continue playing into April). Martin and Smith would then become unrestricted free agents, giving some lucky team (with cap space or a salary cap exception to spare) the opportunity to add a rotation-caliber player for a final push. There are obviously some problems with adding a contributor so late in the season, but the prospect of picking up Martin or Smith at that stage — past the trade deadline, mind you — without surrendering any assets will undoubtedly be appealing.
As for Chandler (and Stuckey, should he choose to take the Tigers up on their offer): who knows what the restricted free agency protocol will be like for a player entering the pool mid-season? Will the Nuggets get Chandler back by default because they issued him a qualifying offer? And if so, why is he being treated like a true free agent in regard to his ability to sign in China? Chandler and Stuckey could induce a surreal mid-season bidding war if they’re allowed to go through their customary free agent process while the season is still in stride. Denver and Detroit would have the natural advantage in retaining their respective players, but there’s always a chance that either player could be swept off of their feet — particularly if either incumbent team is leery of the penalties of a new, oppressive luxury tax. There will either be an odd contradiction in free agent status or one of the weirdest mid-season events in league history. The kicker? Things will only get crazier as more free agents commit to play in China for a chunk of the NBA’s season, leading to an unprecedented influx of familiar NBA talent with the playoffs just around the corner.