Fans of the Knicks, Clippers, and a handful of other teams are anxiously awaiting J.R. Smith's return to the NBA, but Smith isn't the only intriguing free-agent-to-be still under contract in China. Wilson Chandler and Aaron Brooks are also expected to head back to America when their Chinese teams finish their respective seasons.
Rumors and speculation have followed Smith more than the others in part because he'll be an unrestricted free agent when his Chinese contract expires, meaning he'll be free to sign with any NBA team. Chandler and Brooks, on the other hand, are restricted free agents under the control of the Nuggets and Suns, respectively. As such, their NBA options may be limited.
As Larry Coon writes at HoopsWorld today, players aren't allowed to sign offer sheets after March 1st of any season, including this one. While the Chinese regular season ends on February 15th, Chandler's and Brooks' clubs both appear ticketed for the postseason, meaning they could be playing in China well into March. If Chandler and Brooks return to America in March, they could only play for the Nuggets and Suns, since sign-and-trade agreements aren't allowed during the season.
If a restricted free agent like Chandler and Brooks hopes to field offers from other teams this season, one of three things must happen, as Coon outlines:
- His Chinese club must finish its season in February, giving him a chance to sign offer sheets with teams before March 1st.
- His Chinese club must release him before March 1st, and FIBA must grant him a letter of clearance. This was how Kenyon Martin was able to return early to the NBA, though Martin was an unrestricted free agent upon his return.
- His NBA club must renounce his rights, making him an unrestricted free agent. It seems unlikely that the Nuggets or Suns would give up their rights to Chandler and Brooks for nothing, but it's a possibility.
The idea of an influx of quality free agents making their way back from China in the next month is exciting, but a number of obstacles must be cleared for that idea to become a reality. At least one thing is certain: We'll be paying extra-close attention to the CBA postseason this year.