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Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Report: Kenyon Martin off Xinjiang

ESPN.com news services

Kenyon Martin's expected departure from his team in China is moving closer to official.

Yahoo! Sports reported Wednesday that Martin has "severed ties" with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers, enabling Martin to leave the country but likely keeping him out of the NBA until March at the earliest.

Xinjiang is determined to withhold Martin's FIBA letter of clearance until its season is finished, thus complying with the rules established over the summer by the Chinese Basketball Association.

ESPN.com reported Sunday that Xinjiang was on the verge of releasing Martin as part of a roster shakeup in the wake of an 8-4 start for a team that lost only one regular-season game in 2010-11.

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, had stopped Xinjiang from making the move sooner. But by vowing to withhold Martin's FIBA letter of clearance until its season is complete, Xinjiang would be adhering to league regulations.

The Flying Tigers' adherence to the rules, however, might dampen any hopes that other established NBA players who signed in China during the lockout -- Wilson Chandler, J.R. Smith and Aaron Brooks -- to return to the NBA sooner than expected.

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 United States in the event of the lockout ending. That meant Martin, Chandler, Smith and Brooks knew they were likely committing to staying through the end of the Chinese Basketball Association season in March before having the freedom to sign a new NBA deal.

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There has been speculation in some time within Chinese basketball circles that the teams employing Chandler (Zhejiang Guangsha Lions) and Smith (Zhejiang Golden Bulls), in particular, would be the most likely to allow their American stars to return to the States when the lockout ended.

Xinjiang, by contrast, was widely regarded as the team least likely to let its import leave, but sources told ESPN.com that the Flying Tigers' management was too frustrated with the team's sluggish start and Martin's lackluster play not to make changes.

Xinjiang has the biggest budget in China, even after signing Martin and buying former Portland Trail Blazers guard Patty Mills out of his contract in Australia to replace former Sacramento Kings first-round pick Quincy Douby, who suffered a serious wrist injury. The Flying Tigers, desperate to win the championship this season after back-to-back near misses, are thus prepared to effectively shelve the 33-year-old for the next three months and spend more money to find a suitable replacement.

Xinjiang is also one of the Chinese teams that negotiated with Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant earlier this summer.

Martin and Smith will be unrestricted free agents when they finally make it back to the NBA. Chandler and Brooks are restricted free agents with the Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns, respectively.

It is generally assumed by executives around the league that Martin, Chandler, Smith and Brooks all want to get back to the NBA as soon as possible.

Information from ESPN.com's Marc Stein contributed to this report.