Wilson Chandler Takes One For The Team

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 5: Wilson Chandler #21 of the Denver Nuggets waits in the game against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on March 5, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Wilson Chandler risked more than any other NBA player has by signing in China. Will the bet pay off? Also: why we hold David Stern to a higher standard.

Wilson Chandler will play in China next season, having agreed to a one-year deal with Zheijiang for a couple million dollars. The notable part is that, due to recently approved Chinese Basketball Association rules, Chandler could not have an NBA lockout opt-out clause included in the deal. He's in China for the entire season, which means free agency will wait a year.

Of course, it might have been forced to wait a year regardless -- there's still no end to the lockout in sight. Chandler's a would-be restricted free agent; a number of teams have cap space and ought to have interest in a solid if unspectacular small forward, but restricted free agency always seems to dampen contract size. Chandler wasn't on the path to massive riches, but he definitely would have signed a contract worth more than what it seems he'll make in China. Even if we lose 32 games again, the pro-rated figure of Chandler's next contract would be worth more than the $2 million or so he'll make in China. (Chandler's qualifying offer with Denver is for $3.1 million. Losing 32 games would roughly pro-rate that to $1.9 million. But Chandler would have signed somewhere for more than the QO, I'm guessing. Most players do.)

This is why Chandler is now the first NBA player to really take a risk during the NBA lockout. Deron Williams executed the first big splash by signing with Besiktas ... but Williams was always coming back to the Nets when the lockout ended, and there was never a question that he'd either sign a max extension with New Jersey or hit free agency in 2012. All Williams and those who followed to Europe were willing to give up were the creature comforts of easy living in the United States. They were agreeing to do so for a good chunk of change, all things considered. There was no collateral damage, at least not built into the agreement. Of course injuries could happen -- just as they can in D.C., L.A., Las Vegas and at Rucker, by the way -- but there was no explicit ante being offered.

Chandler's ante is a big one. Forget about the money he could lose this season, should the lockout wrap up. Consider that (assuming the rules remain in place) when he does return to the NBA in 2012, he'll still be a restricted free agent. That's what tripped up Josh Childress, who made a two-year sojourn to Greece when he didn't like the Hawks' offers. He came back and ... the Hawks still controlled his rights! Of course, the Hawks had moved on, spending their budget elsewhere, so a trade to the Suns was easy to pull off. Childress eventually got paid well, and he actually made a really solid salary in Greece. (Ah, 2008. Those were the days.) But that's the risk Chandler takes. Restricted free agency is a salary dampener. Chandler will almost assuredly face it in 2012. Is it worth the Chinese trip?

That's only a good bet if a full season is missed, given that the union would probably fight to have 2011 restricted free agents marked as unrestricted free agents per their schedule in 2012. Otherwise, other '11 restricted free agents (Marc Gasol, Mario Chalmers, Marcus Thornton, Greg Oden) would be in the same boat as Chandler: stuck in limbo. 

I don't think anyone knows whether Chandler made the right move or not. But no one can question that it's a risky move, and the most notable since Williams took the plunge. Chandler has real skin in the game now. We'll see whether his bet pays off.


Last week, I wrote that fans deserve honesty from David Stern and the NBA as the owners lock out players, threaten to cancel an entire season and generally hold those who have enriched all of the beneficiaries hostage. Fans are being treated like customers when they are really partners; the least Stern and company can do is restrain themselves from using fans as props in the spin war.

Tim Donahue of Eight Points, Nine Seconds -- who has written as informatively as anyone on the lockout -- pointed out that players' union VP Maurice Evans was no less willing to stretch the facts than Stern in media appearances last week. It's hard to find a specific passage that illustrates this, so I encourage you to etch out a few moments and read the whole thing.

Tim's right: Evans was spinning like a Technic, just like Stern. Here's the difference: David Stern is the commissioner of the NBA, the most important person in the sport and -- whether he likes it or not -- a steward of the game. Mo Evans is one of eight vice presidents of National Basketball Players Association executive committee. There's no comparison in terms of the attention required to each. (No offense to Mo.)

That matters. And that's why I take issue with Tim's closing thought:

Ultimately, demanding honesty from either side is something of a fool's errand. It will be forthcoming from neither. Each will continue to stick to their talking points, zealously and earnestly making their case. Truth is of no real benefit to either. Not when lies are just as often created in the ear as the mouth.

To fail to demand honesty from David Stern, the most powerful man in basketball, is to concede whatever little power fans still have. Forget that. Sure, when players and union officials twist the truth, they deserve to be called on it. That's undeniable. But you can't ignore the pedestal from which Stern speaks. You cannot pretend that his words aren't the biggest stick carried in the lockout right now, that his mouth isn't the most effective bullhorn.

Call me a hopeless romantic, but I believe honesty is something worth fighting for in this war of words.

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