Well this is interesting. Sharks owner Yao Ming has come out and confirmed that Shanghai will not be taking up the option of a third foreign player slot (valid only for the current season) that they would be entitled to as a result of finishing in the bottom five of last year’s CBA. This would seemingly be the first time a team has decided not to take advantage of the rule since the ‘Deadpool’ roster clause was invented.
Speculation has been rife about whether the Sharks would actually go through with Yao’s wishes. The Shanghainese legend has been vocal about the removal of the third overseas player clause, which he feels restricts the playing time of emerging Chinese players. Thus, when the Sharks found themselves finishing in the bottom five, Yao’s team had to make a decision about whether to stand on principal or grasp the opportunity of a third, potentially season changing player.
Four years ago, the Sharks rebounded from a traditionally woeful season with a deep play-off charge as a team coached by Bob Donewald surprised everyone . The key to that run? All three imports; Americans Garret Siler, John Lucas and Jordanian Zaid Abbas were excellent. Abbas was with Shanghai because he was the extra player allowed under the ‘Deadpool’ clause (CBA teams other than the bottom five only get two imports). His hustle and hard work helped give steel to a team that relied extensively on their all-action backcourt (Liu Wei averaged 21.3ppg whilst Lucas went for 27.9).
The addition of a third ‘Asian’ import (bizarrely, this is typically a Middle Eastern or African player) can help teams immediately change their fortunes from also-rans to immediate play-off contenders. Shandong stormed to the CBA finals last season, having been terrible the previous year- all via having three overseas players.
Moreover, Abbas remains a game changer. Recruited only by teams able to get a third overseas player, the power forward has led four successive teams (Shanghai, Beijing, Fujian, Shandong) to the playoffs and also made the CBA All-Star team last year. When the Sharks’ campaign began to go down the pan in January, its’ fans were already calling for the Abbas signing for the following season.
However, the Sharks decided not to bring the extremely popular Abbas back to the Yuanshen. Nor did they sign fellow Jordanian Osama Daghlas- arguably the best point guard available to a CBA team. Both Abbas (Tianjin Lions) and Daghlas (Qingdao Eagles) now have new employers that aren’t based in Shanghai. Iranian centre Mohamed Bahrami, a big part of his country’s recent Asian FIBA championship victory, has also signed with Fujian in the last couple of days.
Yao has seemingly held firm in his bid to modernise the CBA and in doing so, has put his team at a relative disadvantage by not utalising the third foreigner rule. Its a valiant move given that the ruling has created enormous boom and bust cycles for weaker CBA teams that have no intentions of building for the long term with young players and are content to enjoy success every other year.
However, whether Sharks fans will appreciate the move remains to be seen. Crowds plummeted towards the end of last season as the Gilbert Arenas debacle destroyed Shanghai’s play-off hopes. The return of Abbas would have been a huge boost on and off the court. Instead, the Sharks will play it straight and have to hope they win without the extra advantage their other Deadpool rivals are currently enjoying.