In the ever-escalating battle between those who do and do not think that players heading to China to play is a viable option, we have some new developments.
First there was a report last weekendthat the Chinese government and CBA (that's Chinese Basketball, not Collective Bargaining) officials were working on a rule change to prohibit opt-out clauses from being included in any contract for an NBA player during the lockout. Many skeptics of the "China plan" ho-ho-ho'd the development, laughing off the absurdity squashed beneath the ruling of such a powerful entity. On Wednesday, noted Chinese basketball site NIUBBall.com reported that teams are examining ways to circumvent the ruling, essentially because they don't really care what that powerful entity says. The quick answer? Why not just make an agreement with the player to release them instead of instituting a formal contract provision? From NIUBBall.com:
The answer is unclear, which is why teams are growing more and more convinced that they can negotiate an under-the-table agreement with players that would guarantee a return to America after a set period of time or after the lockout ends. To remain in line with CBA policy, the team would then sign an official one-year deal consistent with the CBA’s rules prohibiting an out-clause, which would be turned in to and approved by the league office. After the player left, the team could point to the official contract and state a variety of reasons for why the player left — breach of contract, injury, inability to adapt to China, etc. — and claim no responsibility for the player’s departure. With a league approved contract on file in league headquarters, there wouldn’t be any way for the league to prove foul-play.via NiuBBall.com » Teams searching for ways to get NBA superstars to China.
“Since word of the new rule got out, the common thinking to get around this has been to write up two contracts, the real one [that has been negotiated with the player] and the one that is officially filed with the CBA,” said another general manager speaking anonymously. “We feel we can absolutely get a deal done with a player privately. Once the lockout ends, we’ll just release him. Then, after he’s gone, we’ll pull up the one-year contract that is on file with the league.”
So now the question becomes whether players can trust their Chinese teams to uphold terms of the under-the-table agreement, and what response the CBA would have to breach of contract if the team did not wish to pursue any action against the player. Oddly enough, the CBA should learn something the NBA is already very familiar with: the teams make the rules. It doesn't really matter what the organizing body says if the teams that comprise the league choose to ignore it.
People are still very doubtful that there's enough money in China to make the trip worth it to players, but again I'll ask about the sponsorship money. Salary money to NBA stars is often the lowest total they get in a year, at least in a per-hour manner. And the financial ramifications of building a base in China go far beyond this season. Developing that by playing there for a year will cement income for years to come. It's tapping a wide-open market that they can only barely scratch in the offseasons, and yet they try to anyway, like Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Paul's Chinese tour a few weeks ago. Imagine that potential augmented by actually playing for a local team.
One thing that has been confirmed by NIUBBall.com is that the contract offer for Dwyane Wade from one of the clubs, reported by a local newspaper earlier this week, was denied by the team's general manager. Wade's the kind of player you can't believe will go overseas, based solely on his injury history. Kobe Bryant is older, and has had knee, finger, and ankle injuries in the past two years and is still in better shape than Wade physically. Bryant's also much more likely to ignore sound medical advice and go off of what he "feels."
But still, no one's signed in China. The cupboard is full (or bare, depending on how you look at it). So clearly the rush is not on. There will continue to be questions about how this whole thing will work out, and the only thing that's truly certain is that no one really knows. We're in uncharted territory, feeling our way through just like the players, the NBA, the CBA, and its teams.