After starting the 2016/17 Chinese Basketball Association season with the Shandong Golden Stars, Norris Cole has been released by the team, according to LI Shuangfu of Lanxiong Sports (Twitter link). Zhang Duo reports that the Chinese club has signed former NBA guard A.J. Price to take Cole’s spot on its roster (link via Sportando).
The timing is interesting for Cole, who reached a deal with Shandong nearly two months ago. That contract was believed to include an NBA out, and a report surfaced this week – in the wake of Mike Conley‘s back injury – suggesting that the Grizzlies had expressed interest in bringing Cole back to the NBA. There’s no indication yet that Cole and the Grizzlies have an agreement in place, but it certainly wouldn’t be surprising to see the veteran point guard sign with Memphis within the next few days.
Cole averaged a career-high 10.6 PPG and 3.7 APG last season in 45 games for the Pelicans, but was unable to land a deal with an NBA team as a free agent this offseason. The 28-year-old point guard, who started his career with the Heat when Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale was an assistant in Miami, played in nine games for the Golden Stars this season, averaging 19.1 PPG and 4.3 APG.
If the Grizzlies do intend to sign Cole, they’ll either have to waive a player from their 15-man roster, or wait until they’re eligible to apply for a hardship exception. Teams can become eligible to add an extra player to their roster if they have at least four players who are sick or injured. For a hardship exception to be granted, those four players must have missed at least three consecutive games apiece and must continue to be unavailable.
Currently, Memphis is without Conley, Chandler Parsons, James Ennis, and Brandan Wright, so the team will be eligible to apply for the hardship exception on Saturday, after Conley misses his third consecutive game.
As for Price, the 30-year-old guard started his NBA career with the Pacers back in 2009/10, and ultimately appeared in 261 regular season games for a total of five teams. He spent last season with the CBA’s Shanghai Sharks.