K-Mart heading back to NBA?

December, 18, 2011
12/18/11
4:13
PM ET
Stein By Marc Stein
ESPN.com
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The Xinjiang Flying Tigers in China are giving strong consideration to releasing star forward Kenyon Martin, according to sources close to the situation.

If Xinjiang goes through with the move, it would be the test case for established NBA players who signed in China during the lockout to possibly return to the NBA sooner than expected.

Sources told ESPN.com that only the threat of serious sanctions from Chinese league officials for releasing a player of Martin's stature in-season, including the potential forfeiture of games, has stopped Xinjiang from making the move already.

Based on new rules instituted for this season in China, teams there were told that they could only sign NBA free agents and could not grant out clauses to those players to come back to the States in the event of the lockout ending. For the high-profile American signees -- Martin, Wilson Chandler, J.R. Smith and Aaron Brooks -- that meant they were committing to staying through the end of the Chinese Basketball Association season in March before having the freedom to sign a new NBA deal.

Chinese teams were likewise threatened by serious sanctions, including forfeiture of games, if they opted to release a player in-season like sources say Xinjiang wants to do with Martin now. But sources say Xinjiang is sufficiently frustrated with the team's slow start and is willing to test the rule and let him go.

If waived, Martin would still need to secure a FIBA letter of clearance from Xinjiang before he could join an NBA team, but there is a belief in Chinese basketball circles that the first release of an NBA player such as Martin could open the door to the returns of Chandler, Smith and Brooks as well.

It's widely assumed around the NBA that Martin, Chandler, Smith and Brooks are all eager to get back to the States as soon as possible.

Xinjiang has the biggest budget in China even after signing Martin and recently bought former Portland Trail Blazers guard Patty Mills out of a deal in his native Australia to replace the injured Quincy Douby, a former first-round pick of the Sacramento Kings. Xinjiang is also one of the Chinese teams that negotiated with Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant earlier this summer.

It was initially thought that Xinjiang management, desperate to win a CBA championship this season, would be the last Chinese team to release its NBA import, but sources say that the Flying Tigers are pondering roster shakeups after a sluggish start to the season.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

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