Facing the possibility of missing an entire NBA season, a few players bolted for the Chinese Basketball Association, which refused to sign anyone still under contract in America.
Part of every deal made during the lockout prohibited anyone from returning to the NBA, even once the lockout had ended, so each player in China has to remain there until at least mid-February, when the CBA regular season comes to an end.
While teams are scrambling to bulk up their rosters prior to the start of the regular season, less than two weeks away, the limited free agent talent pool has adds considerable depth a few months before the playoffs begin.
Teams are already heavily pursuing former Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko, an unrestricted free agent that returned to Russia to play for CSKA Moscow this summer, has a reported 15 teams attempting to sign him.
Once the group of players that went to China become available, there will be plenty of suitors willing to bid on their services.
Roster spots in China are limited, as teams in the CBA are allowed just a maximum of two foreign players.
While the CBA saw a talent influx this summer, there will be plenty of teams ready to clear a roster spot once their contract expires in China.
Take a look at some of the top players that can come back to the NBA at mid-season.
Aaron Brooks– Point Guard
Two years ago Brooks won the Most Improved Player in the league award, becoming Houston’s leading scorer after Yao Ming was lost for the year. Brooks went on to average 19.6 points and 5.3 assists per game, both career highs. His exposure to a Chinese audience, playing alongside Ming, made him a commodity as he signed with the Guangdong Dragons.
Brooks was dealt at mid-season to Phoenix, where he served as the top backup to Steve Nash. Contenders such as the Knicks, Heat, Lakers and Magic could all benefit from adding Brooks to their roster.
Wilson Chandler– Small Forward
The primary piece Denver received in exchange for Carmelo Anthony, Chandler is one of three former Denver Nuggets to play in China during the lockout. His versatility enables him to play three positions and he added a respectable three-point shot to his repertoire, connecting on 35% of his attempts from beyond the arc.
Chandler was the first significant American-born player to join the CBA, signing with Zhejiang Guangsha on Aug. 30.
Teams needing an upgrade at small forward include the Lakers, Nets, Warriors, Spurs and Wizards.
Kenyon Martin– Power Forward
Injuries have always been an issue for Martin, as he has never played more than 77 games since being selected with the first overall pick in 2000, and his appearances have dipped each of the past three seasons.
The 6-foot-9 Martin has lost much of his explosive leaping ability, leading to a career-low 8.6 points per game last season. Martin is hoping his time with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers will keep him healthy for a playoff run in 2012.
Even with his diminished production, Martin could contend for a starting position with the Magic, Bucks Nets, Hornets, Suns and Raptors.
J.R. Smith– Shooting Guard
During his debut with the Zhejiang Golden Bulls, Smith left with an apparent knee injury as he limped off the court. After consulting with doctors, there was no significant damage and he was able to quickly return to the floor.
Smith was accused of faking the injury, in an attempt to have his contract voided and return to the NBA.
After the fallout from his injury, Smith submitted a 52 point, 22 rebound effort.
His explosive scoring ability will make him a commodity once he’s eligible to return, with the Bulls, Trail Blazers, Nets and Grizzlies all needing help at shooting guard.