On the flip side of the fourth quarter rule that now allows only one import on the court at any time, many things have changed in the CBA. Now there are ‘import no. 1’ and ‘import no. 2’ statuses, a seldom-before-seen hierarchy for foreigners and a distinctly fresh flavor to the Chinese free agency market. It seems teams have also gotten wise to the need to balance out their rosters. One only has to look at thrice-time champions Beijing– whose wisely built roster allows homegrown players like Li Gen and Sun Yue to thrive without not taking numbers away from Randolph Morris and Stephon Marbury– to realize how successful this special blend actually is.
But you can’t win anything without generating admiration and envy. Everyone wants to keep up with Joneses, or, as we’re are in China after all, with the Zhou’s. So with that in mind, let’s focus on some local players moving on to new scenery.
1 – Li Gen to Xinjiang
Li Gen is one of the pre-eminent players in the CBA. He was a key contributor to Beijing’s title and his offensive repertoire is of the highest order for a local. Outside shooting, cutting to the hoop, posting up, drawing fouls; you name it, Li can do it. Xinjiang, on the other hand, are the Brooklyn Nets of the CBA: high expectations, huge payroll, little results. However, they do have Andray Blatche and Andrew Goudelock to add to NBA-bound Zhou Qi and local stars Makhan Morambek, Xirelijiang and Liu Wei.
So on paper, this roster looks like an All-Star selection. Meanwhile, the new coach entrusted with running the show is Li Qiuping, last season’s CBA Coach of the Year and the man who engineered the successful Yao Ming experiment when the Great Wall was just a teenager. Given that Blatche hasn’t exhibited off-court red flags so far and some of the internal competition is gone, the environment might also finally be a bit more stable (barring any potential front office meltdowns). But even then, Li Gen will add the sort of steady contribution that most of the locals in Urumqi can provide only inconsistently. Truth be told; Liu Wei is old, Zhou Qi is mostly a defender, Makhan still has to discover what kind of player he is and Xirelijiang is too busy being Xirelijiang to provide game-to-game stability. At the same time, Li is also going to be bringing a quality that won’t show up on the stat sheet; a winning and confident persona to a place where success hasn’t exactly been a habit.
2 – Zeng Lingxu to Shanxi
In a most silent fashion, Shanxi is building a pretty stable team. After getting Taiwanese big Wu Taihao and stealing Dominique Jones away from Jilin, rumor has it that Zeng Lingxu, one of the steadiest combo guards in the CBA, is the latest newcomer in town.
While nowhere near the level of Li Gen, signing a guy like Zeng is still a pretty impressive piece of free agency artistry. Moreover, as a mercurial team even by Chinese standards, the Brave Dragons could use a steady player who can cover both backcourt spots and be productive enough for import players to trust. Shanxi has little local talent except for Duan Jiangpeng, a one-dimensional shooter, or maybe Ge Zhaobao, himself a one-dimensional mid-range shooter (and who, at 7’0″ with good mobility and length, has no excuse for how much of a non-factor he is on defense and on the boards). Zeng Lingxu certainly represents a commodity Shanxi hasn’t been blessed with in a while, which makes their roster a little more captivating. Will he be enough for high level contention, however? Definitely not, but he’s a small step in the right direction.
3 – Tang Zhengdong to Foshan
Foshan needs veteran players to work with their young and surprisingly talented roster. Tang Zhengdong, be it for this reason alone, is a good pickup. Does he have more in him? Maybe, but also maybe not. Since the late oughties, Big Tang has been a genuine protagonist in this league thanks to his old school, back-to-the-basket style. But age, injuries and limited playing time in Xinjiang has caused his value to plummet in recent seasons. However, given how little local star power dwells in the CBA, he still has marketability with mid-level teams like his former squad, the Jiangsu Dragons (whose offer was refused at the last moment) and Foshan.
Trying to estimate his contribution without understanding the ephemeral nature of an aging big man’s health is an exercise in futility. Yet when Tang is switched on, he’s still an unmovable object and a big load in the post that also contributes on the boards. But asking for more than that? Well, that is just naive.
4 – Cao Fei to Zhejiang
Whatever the plan was with Cao Fei in Xinjiang, it didn’t work. Fella couldn’t get 15 minutes per game if he went down on his knees begging, and his efficiency didn’t benefit. In all honesty, Cao Fei has never been an efficient shooter, and although fairly complete in his all-around game, his numbers have never screamed star power. So Cao is now back in Zhejiang after just one season away.
But having only just come back to the Bulls, it is already clear how things are going to go down. With his new team’s local talent being so raw and young, Cao is already the best Chinese player they have– even when he inevitably goes on to shoot 40% from the field. Meh.
5 – Meng Da to Sichuan
One of the long-timers in Nanjing has opted to look for greener pastures in Sichuan. Mainly a jump shooter, Meng Da will help boost an intriguing local roster in a year where Haddadi will also make his comeback with the Whales.
With regard to Meng, the signing is once more about helping young players and teaching them through consistency and leadership. Meng is certainly experienced enough to be the veteran presence Sichuan need, yet he still has enough stamina for big minutes (he only played 27 mpg last season). He’s a step in the right direction for Sichuan, although far from being the last one needed.
Special nomination: Chris Tang to Tongxi.
Rookies are always a shot in the dark. Chris Tang has been surrounded by way too much attention because of his Oak Hill days, and still has to show he’s an actual player. It is no use looking for a clue in his college stats– they don’t really help with regard to guys who played less than four minutes per game. Tongxi is a bottom five team that needs pretty much everything, and doesn’t expect Chris Tang to be a leader or even a starter. But if he turns out to be one of these eventually, then it’s all good.