SEPTEMBER 6, 8:14am: The Rockets don’t expect Zhou to play for them during the 2016/17 season, Calvin Watkins of ESPN.com clarifies. According to Watkins, there’s no out clause in the big man’s contract to play in the NBA this season. It seems likely that the two sides will try to work something out in the summer of 2017.
SEPTEMBER 5, 5:01pm: Center Zhou Qi, who was selected 53rd overall in this year’s draft by the Rockets, met with team officials in Houston today, Hupu.com reports (translation via Basketball Insiders). Zhou’s situation is a complicated one, with the 20-year-old under contract with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers for another five years. The big man reportedly has an NBA out clause included in his deal with Xinjiang for 2017, with his buyout amount worth $650,000.
What is unknown at this time is the date Zhou is eligible to exercise that buyout. The Chinese Basketball Association’s season ends in early February, with the playoffs typically completed by early March. American players who ink one-year deals with Chinese clubs are able to sign with NBA teams once their seasons are finished. It’s unclear if Zhou would be able to buy his way out of his contract in the spring, or if he and the Rockets are having discussions regarding next summer.
It would make more sense for the Rockets if the discussions were regarding the 2017/18 season. With Houston currently over the salary cap, the team could only offer him a two-year contract in the spring. Going that route would also essentially burn one year of team control for a brief look at Zhou toward the end of the 2016/17 campaign. If both sides were to wait until next offseason to strike a deal, the Rockets would be able to offer him a longer contract, which would put less pressure on the young big man to produce immediately. I should point out that this is merely speculation on my part.
Zhou appeared in 42 games for the Flying Tigers a season ago, averaging 15.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.1 steals and 3.2 blocks. His shooting line was .603/.600/.758. Very solid numbers for a young big man, though, some NBA teams reportedly believe that the center is actually three or four years older than his listed age.