So we all know that Wilson Chandler and J.R. Smith (and don’t forget about poor Aaron Brooks) are currently playing in China and are contractually obligated to remain until after their respective teams’ seasons are over. But as fantasy owners begin to stash these guys in anticipation of their return to the NBA, the question on everyone’s mind at the moment is when exactly can we expect Chandler and Smith back on the court?
First, some background on the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) thanks to the very helpful blog NiuBBall.com:
The official end of the CBA regular season is February 15th. But contrary to what some may believe, that’s not the set date for players to be eligible to sign back in the NBA. The rule on back-to-the-NBA releases has always been specific to each individual team’s season, not the league calendar. That is, players can return to the NBA only when their team plays its final game of the year – regular season or playoffs – which means different players will get their letter of clearances at different times.
With only one game remaining in the regular season, the CBA playoff picture is pretty much set. A total of 8 of the league’s 17 teams make the playoffs, which run from the end of February through the end of March. Chandler’s team, Zhejiang Guangsha, is currently in 8th place with one game to go and have the same record (17-14) as the two teams above them in the standings. According to NiuBBall.com they are a lock to make the playoffs. They should have anywhere from a 6th to 8th seed provided the CBA seeding works the same as the NBA.
This means that Chandler won’t be able to leave China at the end of the CBA regular season on 2/15 and he will have to play at least one playoff series before he’s done. The good news if you’ve stashed Chandler in your fantasy league is that Zhejiang Guangsha will be one of the lower seeds in the playoffs and, barring an upset, should be out after the first round. So, how long will that take? According to my new favorite blog:
The eight team playoffs start on February 22nd. After the best-of-five first round series are completed, the semi-finals, also best-of-five, will start on March 4th. The best-of-seven finals will start on March 16th. If necessary, game seven will be played on March 30th.
Provided he loses in the first round, Chandler should be done with the CBA by the end of February or very beginning or March. At that point, he’ll still be a free agent and will need to sign with a team before he actually steps back on the court. The good news is that Chandler is a restricted free-agent who is planning on resigning with the Denver Nuggets. That could speed up his whole free agent process. So we are probably looking at Chandler back on the court sometime between the beginning to middle of March, or about 3-4 weeks from now for fantasy owners.
Three to four weeks is significant amount of time to stash a player like Chandler, but it is doable provided you have the ability to sit on him, say if you’re in a weekly changes league or if your fantasy team is towards the top of the standings at this point of the season.
Smith plays for Zhejiang Chouzhou. At one point, they were a good bet to make the CBA playoffs, but the team has gone on a huge losing streak to end the season (tank job by Smith?). They currently have a record of 15-15 and have officially been eliminated from the playoffs. That means Smith is free to head back to the States after the CBA regular season ends on Wednesday and presumably he’ll be on the first plane possible out of the country.
Unlike Chandler however, who is a good bet to return to the Nuggets, Smith is an unrestricted free agent who has drawn a lot of interest from a number of teams. So the process of him signing with a team is going to be more drawn out than Chandler’s. It’s tough to tell exactly how long that will take, but best case scenario will put him back on the court by the end of February.
And in case you are interested in Aaron Brooks, he plays for the top ranked Guangdong Hongyuan, so his playoff run could be a long one. See you in April, Brooks.