Web Chat VI: Olympic Roster, Managerial Changes And A Chinese Swansong For A.I.?

Its been a LONG offseason and whilst its been great watching Nicolas Anelka and the growing masses of European soccer players currently turning out in the Chinese Super League, there’s always time for some CBA chit-chat. Niubball’s Jon Pastuzek, just back in Beijing following a long holiday in the U.S., is the man stepping in to talk about the Chinese national team,  Shaanxi locking down Marcus Williams and Charles Gaines for another two years and the possibility of seeing Allen Iverson playing in the CBA

AC: Obviously the big news is the announcement of the twelve-man Olympic roster. As you’ve noted yourself, it’s going to be a different team to the traditional Chinese approach of grinding teams down with their big men- how big of a surprise was this to you?

JP: I wasn’t too surprised. I think the decision to go small puts China’s best players on the roster and gives them the best chance to win. China’s strength lies in its versatility on the wing and on its defense, which is why I thought leaving off a fourth center was the right move. Now China boasts a deeper roster than sub in-and-out and play to its match-ups. They’ll be able to switch almost everything on defense if they choose to do so, and they’ll be able to spread the floor out and give Yi Jianlian room to operate on the high and low posts on offense. Some people are protesting about cutting young Wang Zhelin, but with the emphasis being placed on the defensive side, there just wasn’t a place for him. Or Su Wei, thankfully.

AC: Very true. From a Sharks perspective, its nice to see that both of the players who had a realistic shot at making the team will be going to London. I guess my next question is how you think Donewald will dish out his minutes during the Olympics obviously, he’ll want to get as much out of the old guard as he can but he’ll also want to install the belief in the players coming through to replace them that this is their team now.

JP: I think he’s going to go with a deeper rotation, possibly up to 10 guys, because for me it isn’t clear who China’s best seven or eight guys are. Outside Yi, Wang Zhizhi, Liu Wei and Sun Yue, Zhou Peng, Ding Jinhui, Yi Li, Chen Jianghua, Zhu Fangyu and Wang Shipeng are all good enough to get minutes. So while I think you’ll see plenty of the familiar faces, I also think you’re going to see some of the so-called “new guard” mixed in as well.

AC: My final question about London is how far do you think they can go? For me, the quarter-finals is achievable.

JP: It’s going to be tough for China to get out of the group stages. Spain is contending for a gold medal. Brazil has brought arguably its best roster in its country’s history with the addition of Nene and will be very much in the hunt for a medal. Russia, with their experience in major international competitions, is also very much in the medal discussion as well. China has never beaten Australia at the Olympics and Great Britain – who has several NBA players suiting up – is the host nation. China will need two wins to get out and while I think they’ll play respectably, I’m just not sure who those two will come against.

AC: Okay, let’s talk players coming to China from overseas. There have been a couple of big transfers which we should probably discuss individually. The first is Quincy Douby signing with Zhejiang. Obviously he lit it up with Xinjiang two seasons ago but he then missed last season with an injury. I know he later played in Spain but he only appeared in nine games before signing in China. Do you think it’s a reach for Zhejiang or is the risk worth the reward?

JP: I don’t think it’s a reach. Douby proved that he was healthy while playing with Murcia and while I do think it’ll be tough for him to match his epic season from two years ago, I anticipate that he’ll be one of the top imports in the league. If they can get a solid big man to pair up with him, and get some steady play from Ding Jinhui and the newly arrived Gong Songlin, Zhejiang could be a top five team this year.

AC: The other big offseason signings have to be Marcus Williams and Charles Gaines for another two years with Shanxi. Those two were huge for the Dragons this season, and baring the occasion cameo from Duan Jiangpeng, it was basically those two destroying everything in their path. Shanxi clearly want to keep a winning formula and getting Williams for two years is a no-brainer but do you think Gaines is possibly a risk as he’ll be 33 when this deal ends and younger power forwards like Zaid Abbas or perhaps even Shavlik Randolph or Mike Harris are floating around as we speak?

JP: There might be a little cause for concern, but its tough to argue against a two-year deal when you look at Gaines’ China resume, which is as good as they come over the last three years. And Gaines’ scoring is an important element for that team because like you alluded to, there aren’t any consistent Chinese players who can put the ball in the basket. They had a historic season last year with him and Williams, and I think electing to bring the two back to allow the team to build on everything was a smart move. I think he’ll be fine, even as his age increases. But if Shanxi ever wants to pull the plug, remember: There’s no such thing as a guaranteed contract in China…

AC: Indeed. Looking beyond Shanxi, there have been coaching changes at Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Foshan off the top of my head. Its easy to assume that the CBA team(s) with the best imports will have the most success but I think Shanghai’s reinvention under Daniel Panaggio demonstrated what a difference a coach can make here in China– could you see a change in fortunes for any of these clubs with a new man at the helm?

JP: Jiangsu will be better because they can’t get any worse and if the CBA rules to keep Asian imports this year, they could turn back into a semi-finals team again. In Zhejiang, Yang Xuezeng will be a good fit because his preference for up-tempo basketball on offense fits well with their current roster. For Foshan, Joe Whelton represents their second foreign head coach since the franchise moved from Shaanxi three years ago. Until Foshan can get some capable Chinese players, I’m not sure how their fortunes improve this season. But who knows, maybe I’m wrong.

AC: I guess we have to talk about him. Allen Iverson. He’s supposedly hankering for a move to the CBA but could he still do it and where would he go? If it happened at all, he’d end up with a lower end team that had nothing to lose and would be happy to get bumper attendances for the first few games. Don’t get me wrong, the little kid inside me wants to see AI but this isn’t going to be 2001 Iverson, this is going to be a thirty-seven year old who hasn’t played any meaningful basketball in well over a year.

JP: I’m not sure where it goes. On one hand, I think a couple of teams are interested just because of the name and the commercial potential he’d bring if he were to sign on. On the other hand, I think most teams aren’t sure whether they want to invest what is likely to be over a million dollars to sign a player who hasn’t played or practiced (practice????) in a few years.

AC: Damn, you got the Iverson-practice reference in before me. Well, it’s still a long time before the season gets close to commencing. You want to go out on a limb and make a wild prediction about what’s to come?

JP: It’s tough to make off-season CBA predictions, but I will go out on a limb and say for the umpteenth straight year, the league will drag its feet and release the schedule and rule changes for this year a mere two weeks before the start of the season.

AC: Well, this will be my second year of Chinese basketball so I have nothing to compare it with but that sounds quite possible! I was going to speculate on which relatively well-known free agent was going to appear in the CBA this season- the absurdist in me was going to opt for Kwame Brown only to discover that he’s signed with my own 76ers so instead- and perhaps this is a little more likely- my wild prediction is that Tracy McGrady gets a serious offer from a CBA team before the start of the season.

JP: Well, let’s see what happens.

AC: Yeah, its a long shot but in a long offseason, you’ve got to dream about something. Thanks for you time.

JP: No worries.

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