With the fate of the NBA season still up in the air last November, Aaron Brooks agreed to sign with China's Guangdong Southern Tigers. Less than two weeks later, the players and owners reached a tentative deal to resolve the lockout, but Brooks was locked in to his contract in China for the rest of the CBA season. For Brooks, whose team reached the CBA Finals, that season lasted longer than it did for fellow NBA players like Wilson Chandler and J.R. Smith. But after losing to Stephon Marbury's Beijing Ducks in the Finals, Brooks' path has been cleared for a return to NBA.
Because he was a restricted free agent heading into the lockout and offer sheets can't be signed after March 1st, Brooks can only sign with the Suns if he's going to play this year. Phoenix has no interest in signing Brooks for the rest of the season and allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, so unless the point guard agrees to a cap-friendly, multiyear deal, it's unlikely he'll play in the NBA this season. Comments made by Suns GM Lance Blanks on his blog after a recent visit to China also suggest Brooks will sit out the season:
"[Brooks] is eager to get back home to the States, see his family and begin his off season training to prepare himself for a return to NBA."
If Brooks is already beginning his offseason training, we can assume he'll become a restricted free agent again this summer, though perhaps he'll be better positioned than he was a year ago. After a successful 2009/10 campaign in Houston, Brooks took a slight step back last year, spending half the season with Phoenix after a deadline deal. His 10.7 PPG, .375 FG% and 13.1 PER in 2010/11 were all below his career rates entering the season (13.0 PPG, .421 FG%, 14.5 PER).
However, Brooks was impressive during his stint in China, averaging 22.3 points and 4.8 assists in just 29.9 minutes per game, along with shooting rates of .553/.407/.830 (stats via Asia-Basket.com). He's only 27, and he'll hit the free agent market during a year when the draft is light on top point guards. The free agent market features plenty of options, but probably only one true star in Steve Nash.
Brooks' future may ultimately be tied to Nash's. The Suns are expected to make an effort to retain their longtime point guard, but if Nash decides to sign with a team closer to title contention, Phoenix will find itself under more pressure to keep Brooks. If Nash re-signs, the Suns may not want to commit so much free agent money to one position and keep both point guards, but if Nash is gone, I'd expect the team to match any offer sheet for Brooks.
The Hawks, Mavericks, Lakers, Heat, Magic, and Trail Blazers are among the other clubs who could kick the tires on Brooks in the offseason, but between Blanks' visit to China and Brooks' fondness for Phoenix, the Suns are the favorites. I don't expect Brooks to be offered more than the mid-level exception, so Phoenix should have the means to comfortably match any rival offer.