J.R. Smith to play in Chinese league

Updated: September 14, 2011, 6:07 PM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- Wilson Chandler will have some company in China this season. Fellow Denver Nuggets free agent J.R. Smith is following him overseas.

Another teammate, Ty Lawson, is taking his game abroad as well, electing to play in Lithuania. Unlike Chandler and Smith, Lawson will be able to cut short his overseas adventure should the lockout end in time for there to be an NBA season.

The NBA owners and players are divided over a salary cap structure and have made no significant progress in talks to end the lockout. No more meetings are scheduled.

Even if the issues are resolved in time for there to be a 2011-12 NBA season, Chandler and Smith won't be able to return to play in the NBA until the end of the Chinese season, which runs through March.

"J.R. really wants to play basketball this season," agent Leon Rose told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

So, Smith signed a one-year deal with a squad in Zhejiang, the same province Chandler is heading to but not the same team.

"His decision to accept the deal was based on the uncertainty of the NBA labor negotiations, a significant offer from the club and the unique opportunity to play the game he loves in another country that loves its basketball," Rose wrote in an email. "J.R. is looking forward to the challenge."

Both of them are betting the lockout lasts a while, and they'd rather play in the Chinese Basketball Association than in pickup games at the gym while waiting for the NBA to get going again.

Now that the door is open -- and an NBA season seems ever more uncertain with talks going nowhere this week -- there may be a steady stream of players, possibly even some big names, following the likes of Chandler and Smith overseas.

"The entire league is going to go through quite an adjustment with all of these players, whether they're going to Asia or Europe or whether they're staying in the states to play pickup or work out," said Chandler's agent, Chris Luchey. "It's an unfortunate adjustment. But what's the best way to take advantage of this unfortunate situation?"

Luchey said Chandler, 24, needs China more than established stars do.

J.R. Smith
Smith

"I understand some of your super-elite guys like Carmelo and LeBron making decisions to kind of just play pickup. They're further along in their careers, their games are fully established. Their place in history has been established," Luchey said.

"Wilson's game is developing, his best basketball is ahead of him and so he improves with play. For him, having more of a rigorous schedule in China, playing three games a week, seems more realistic. That's what he was looking for."

And by being the first one to bolt, Chandler had his pick of teams. Last month, Chandler, a restricted free agent, signed with Zhejiang Guangsha to play for former NBA coach Jim Cleamons.

"Wilson's playing for the only NBA coach that's over there," Luchey said. "He's going to a beautiful city, a tourist city, playing on a good team. He basically had all the options to pick and choose the best scenario, best situation for him -- be the trendsetter."

Smith, 26, explained the reasons for his decision to leave on his Twitter account and said that he intends to play in the NBA again.

"How many chance have you had to do what you love an ppl in another country can appreciate it...," Smith wrote.

Smith will be teammates with former University of Connecticut standout Josh Boone.

Chandler, who leaves for China on Thursday, wished Smith well on Twitter, saying in a tweet: "Congrats to my brody."

The exodus of Nuggets players to China might not end with Chandler and Smith, either. Kenyon Martin also is reportedly considering playing in Asia, too.

Smith averaged 12.3 points and 2.2 assists as the Nuggets' sixth man last season. He's long been a fan favorite for his 3-point shooting and his electric dunks. But he sometimes draws the ire of coach George Karl for his befuddling shot selection.


Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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