As such, several NBA free agents – most notably Aaron Brooks, Wilson Chandler, and J.R. Smith – are awaiting the expiration of their Chinese contracts before they can return to the NBA. Each is bound to his team until its final game, either regular season or playoffs. The CBA regular season ends on February 15, with the playoffs scheduled to start on February 22. Postseason play could last as long as March 30.
This poses an additional problem for Brooks and Chandler, who are restricted free agents. Under normal circumstances a restricted free agent can sign an offer sheet with the team of his choice, and the player’s prior team is given the opportunity to retain the player by matching the principal terms of the offer. If the team fails to match the offer (the time limit is three days), the offer sheet becomes a contract with the new team.
But restricted free agents can’t sign offer sheets after March 1 of any season, and this season is no exception. So Brooks and Chandler likely won’t be eligible to return to the NBA until after their eligibility to sign an offer sheet expires.
Both Chandler’s Zhejiang Guangsha and Brooks’ Guangdong Hongyuan appear poised to make deep playoff runs, which means neither player is likely to return to NBA before the March 1 deadline for signing an offer sheet. If Chandler wants to play in the NBA after March 1, his only option will be to return to the Denver Nuggets. Likewise with Brooks and the Phoenix Suns.
This begs the question; do their previous teams want them back? For instance the Suns might feel they are fine at point guard with Steve Nash, Ronnie Price and Sebastian Telfair, and may decide against adding Brooks for just a few games. Even if they decide to re-sign him, they could realize that they are literally bidding against themselves, and lowball their offer.
A sign-and-trade arrangement, in which one of these players is signed by his previous team and immediately traded to a new team, is out of the question. The new collective bargaining agreement prohibits sign-and-trades after the season starts.
There are just three possibilities that could allow Chandler and Brooks to play for another NBA team. First, if either player’s team’s season ends before March 1, he will be free to return to the NBA and could sign an offer sheet with another team before the deadline.
Second, their Chinese teams could release them prior to March 1, even though they are still playing. But even if Brooks or Chandler is granted his release, obtaining a FIBA letters of clearance is uncertain. For example, Kenyon Martin was released by the Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers midway through the Chinese season, but was only granted his letter of clearance when the Flying Tigers failed to respond to FIBA’s request in the allotted time.
The last possibility is if Brooks or Chandler return to the NBA after March 1, the Suns or Nuggets could renounce them, making them unrestricted free agents. They would then be free to sign with any team. However this would require a measure of goodwill on the part of the teams, since either team could reclaim its rights to restricted free agency by submitting a new qualifying offer by June 30.
So if these players return to the NBA after March 1 and don’t sign with their previous teams, they likely must wait until this summer – when they again will be subject to restricted free agency. It’s potentially a no-win situation for both.