No one plays in the NBA forever. As professional basketball players start to reach their mid 30s, retirement soon begins to become a serious option. Their bodies just can’t make it through the 82-game schedule anymore and with younger talent constantly coming up, teams can often replace older veterans with relative ease. Of course players can find themselves outside of the United States before their 30s as well. If your game isn’t up to par, you better expect to be playing overseas. There’s nothing wrong with playing in other leagues, it’s just that the skill level isn’t anywhere near the standard that the NBA holds. China is normally the first option for players who are forced to find a roster spot elsewhere.
Dozens of athletes have brought their talents to the other side of the planet. Some have come back and some have made a name for themselves in their new respective homes. I guess it comes down to whatever makes them happy. NBA fans might not be so thrilled though since some of their favorite players have all but vanished from our television sets. Will those names that randomly pop up in our heads ever come back? For this list we will look at players in China and others playing in different countries as well. As I mentioned, China is often the first place players go when they leave the NBA which is why we think some of the athletes in the league should make their way over there before going anywhere else. Here are eight players who should play in China (or perhaps another league in general) and seven we’d love to see back on American soil.
15. Go To China: Thomas Robinson
I hate to say it but Thomas Robinson is on his way to becoming a bust. Drafted with the 5th overall pick by the Sacramento Kings in the 2012 draft, Robinson has bounced around from multiple teams ever since entering the league. He’s averaged just 4.9 points and 4.8 rebounds per game so far and doesn’t look to be making any improvements in his game to increase those stats. The Lakers signed Robinson this past September and we’ve seen more of the same from him (4.1 PPG & 4.3 RPG). Once you play for the 76ers, Nets and Lakers consecutively you’re basically on your way out of the NBA. I’m sure the Lakers have no future plans with Robinson and signed him just to fill a roster spot. Don’t be surprised if we see Robinson overseas before 2018 rolls around.
14. Come Back: Al Harrington
After being drafted straight out of high school, Al Harrington became a reliable power forward for a number of different teams. While his defensive game could have used some work, Harrington made his case on the offensive side of the ball. In 2014 he signed with the Fujian Sturgeons of the Chinese Basketball Association but left the team that same year after NBA teams began showing interest in him. Unfortunately Harrington didn’t receive any offers and announced his retirement the following year. Harrington came out of retirement in 2015 and signed with the Sydney Kings of the National Basketball League. In his six games with the team he averaged 17.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game.
Not bad. Sure it’s a small sample size tow work with but there are a number of teams in the NBA that could use his veteran presence. He’d probably be more help for the Cavaliers than Larry Sanders at this point.
13. Go To China: Rajon Rondo
Rajon Rondo is an enigma. His pass first style of play is a sight to behold. His actions off the court however, are a different story. Rondo tends to cause a bit of drama no matter what jersey he is wearing. Whether he’s butting heads with Rick Carlisle or getting into it with Ray Allen, Rondo always has some sort of baggage that teams have to worry about when signing him. He is now a member of the Chicago Bulls and his role with the team has yet to be determined. Sure, this process could still be undergoing since no one in the Bulls organization seems to know what’s going on, but Rondo should be able to firmly establish himself within the teams rotation without having players like Michael Carter-Williams or Jerian Grant eat up his minutes. Pass-first point guards are a rarity these days and Rondo might fight himself outside of America sooner than later.
12. Come Back: Andray Blatche
Andray Blatche could give an NBA playoff team a much need boost during the postseason. Blatche has been destroying the competition in China. After opting out of his contract with the Brooklyn Nets in 2014 he became an unrestricted free agent and tested the market to see if any other teams were willing to give him a chance. No one gave the veteran another chance so he took his game to China and played with Xinjiang Flying Tigers. During the 2014-15 CBA regular season he averaged 31.1 points, 14.6 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.8 steals in 38 games. While those numbers most likely wouldn’t carry over in a return to America, the power forward still has a lot to offer at just 30 years old.
Gilas Pilipinas, the Philippines men’s national basketball team, has made it clear that they plan on signing Blatche to help the team win the SEABA tournament and earn them a spot in the FIBA Asia Cup. Blatche should be helping teams win NBA Championships, not some tournament that no one has ever heard of.
11. Go To China: Darren Collison
It’s clear that Darren Collision is on the bottom of the totem pole of point guards in the NBA. While he is currently starting at the one for Sacramento, Collison has shown that he is best suited for a reserve role. His numbers this season (13.4 PPG, 4.5 APG, 2.2 RPG) just aren’t going to cut it. We’ve seen flashes of brilliance in the past from him but there are so many better options for Sacramento to go with. Anyone who winds up on the Kings seems to drop down a notch or two in production (except for DeMarcus Cousins but we all know how that turned out). Players of Collison’s caliber often flourish overseas so maybe a move to China wouldn’t be so bad for him.
10. Come Back: Errick McCollum
The older brother of C.J. McCollum, Errick is one of the more interesting entries in our list. He has never played in the NBA as he went straight to Israel to play professional hoops after going undrafted in 2010. He’s made a few stops in the NBA Summer League but has yet to play a regular season game with anyone. Fans outside of America are witnessing a pretty promising player in Errick who has yet to attempt another shot at the NBA since 2014. Errick was the Eurocup MVP last year and led the Galatasaray Odeabank, a professional team based in Turkey, to their first EuroCup title. These accomplishments are impressive but what really stands out is his 82 point game in the Chinese Basketball Association. On January 30th, 2015 in a game with the Zhejiang Golden Bulls, Errick did his best Kobe Bryant impersonation and torched the Guangdong Southern Tigers. The only downside was that Zhejiang lost. The competition may not be as talented overseas, but a feat like this should warrant some attention from NBA scouts.
9. Go To China: Lance Stephenson
We’ve seen what Lance Stephenson has to offer: a flashy play making ability that is often overlooked because of his lack of a consistent jump shot. After turning down a five-year, $44 million contract from the Indiana Pacers in 2014 Stephenson tested the free-agent market and wound up signing with the Charlotte Hornets. His production began to decrease across the board once he suited up for the Hornets and hasn’t been able to solidify a spot with any other team since.
He’s played for five different teams in the past three years with the Minnesota Timberwolves being the most recent franchise to give him a shot. On March 8th Minnesota signed him to a 10-day contract but did not re-sign him for the rest of the season. Apparently the Pacers are trying to bring back “Born Ready” but we all know he’s not going to be enough for them to make a deep playoff run.
8. Come Back: Dominique Jones
Dominique Jones is becoming the Joe Smith of international basketball. By that I mean he is becoming the journeyman that we often see in the NBA today. Jones has played for six different teams between Puerto Rico, Iran and China. His skills haven’t deteriorated despite the constant travelling in fact they’ve only gotten better since he left the United States in 2013. Always known as a scorer, Jones averaged 31.4 PPG in the first three years of his stint in the CBA. He now finds himself playing in Iran for Azad University Tehran. While his time in the NBA was a bit underwhelming, no one can ignore the strides he’s made in his game while playing for various teams on the other side of the world. Let’s see if teams in the western hemisphere catch on to Jones and give him another chance.
7. Go To China: Roy Hibbert
What happened to Roy Hibbert? After he was traded to the Lakers in 2015 the center just hasn’t been the same. Hibbert has never been particularly great at either end of the floor, he just happened to be on a decent Pacers team since he was drafted in 2008. If Indiana can be happy about anything it’s that they removed the $15.5 million they owed Hibbert before they traded him to L.A. Obviously he isn’t worth that much today. He averaged 5.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and 23.2 minutes per game. The points were a career low and the rest of those stats were the lowest since his rookie year. The Lakers had no use for the Queens native so they traded him to the Hornets, who also had no use for him and traded him to Denver this past February.
Hibbert seems to be making a bit of a farewell tour through the NBA since it probably won’t be much longer until we find him overseas. Safe to say his goodbye won’t be as sad as Kobe Bryant’s or Tim Duncan’s departure.
6. Come Back: Lester Hudson
Lester Hudson might be the best kept secret in China. Hudson has dominated in the CBA ever since he signed with the Guangdong Southern Tigers in 2011. He has returned to the U.S. on multiple occasions since then – receiving tryouts and the standard 10-day contract for those who are trying to make a roster – but hasn’t been able to attract any long term offers from anyone outside of Asia. The six-time CBA All-Star has averaged 29.83 points in his six years in the CBA and could really benefit from some time in the Developmental League but most players aren’t too found of taking that path and Hudson doesn’t seem to be any different.
There’s something to be said about players who stay outside of America to play basketball. Clearly players like Hudson destroy the competition outside of the NBA and that might be satisfying enough to make up for the failed attempts in the premier basketball organization. I guess as along as he’s happy, we’ll just have to wait and see if Hudson ever decides to come back to America.
5. Go To China: Andrew Bogut
Injuries have plagued the careers of hundreds of professional athletes and Andrew Bogut is one of them. Right out of the gate injuries began to hamper the 1st overall pick as a sprained left foot caused him to miss the last 15 games of his sophomore season. From then on his body has continued to be bitten by the injury bug and he has yet to play a full season in the league. While he might have one a championship with the Golden State Warriors in 2015, the team traded him to the Dallas Mavericks to make room for Kevin Durant the following year. Once again injuries took their toll on Bogut and the Mavericks traded him to the 76ers who ended up waiving him four days after the trade took place.
The events that took place last month were more depressing than anything. The Cavaliers signed Bogut to help bolster their bench during the playoffs and most basketball fans know what happened to the Australian in his first appearance with the team. Bogut fractured his tibia in a freak incident after playing less than two minutes in his debut with Cleveland. It’s either China or retirement at this point for him. The former seems like a more suitable option for him right now.
4. Come Back: Rudy Fernandez
The Spanish national basketball team is always some of the stiffest competition the United States has to face in international competition. Rudy Fernandez has played a key role for Spain in the exhibition competitions and became a fan favorite not only his home country but in the NBA as well, particularly during his time in Portland. Fernandez made an impact early in the league by earning a spot on the All-Rookie second team, a feat that’s even more impressive when playing for the first time in a different country. Trailblazers fans loved him but the team made the decision to trade him to the Dallas Mavericks in 2011. The Mavericks moved Fernandez before he could even put on a jersey, sending him to the Denver Nuggets shortly after acquiring him in exchange for a second-round pick. After playing 31 games in the Mile-High City, Fernadez’s season was cut short after he suffered a season-ending back injury.
The following year he made it clear that he would not be returning to the NBA and has played for Real Madrid ever since. It’s too bad that we don’t get to see a talent like Fernandez play in America anymore. Let’s hope that he makes a return to the NBA in the near future.
3. Go To China: Ty Lawson
There haven’t been many players with the alcohol problems that Ty Lawson has. Lawson has been arrested on four separate occasions for driving under the influence. It might be easier said than done but if you’re given a chance to play in the NBA you should probably make the most of the opportunity. Last year Judge Olympia Fay sentenced the point guard to probation and community service for an impaired driving incident back in 2015. He got off easy but his worries are still evident today. Denver court records alleged that Lawson violated his probation after testing positive for alcohol twice this past September and February. Lawson and his lawyer denied those claims and asked for the 29-year-old to be monitored by an alcohol testing device before appearing in court again in six weeks. This is crazy.
To think that teams are giving him a chance is a bit perplexing. Lawson is averaging 9 points, 4 assists and 2 rebounds per game this season and doesn’t offer much to any team right now. China is probably sounding like a safe haven for him right now.
2. Come Back: Stephon Marbury
The story of Stephon Marbury is a tale that every basketball fan should hear during their lifetime. He’s the perfect example of how a professional athlete can become a god in a country not named the United States. Marbury was a standout player during his days in the NBA but he was never quite able to accomplish more than two All-Star game selections. He made it past the second round of the playoffs on just one occasion and he basically rode the bench for the Celtics team that he was on at the time. Once he left for China in 2010, Marbury disappeared from the eyes of Americans but little did we know he was making a name for himself over in Asia.
To put things in a better perspective, he is on the same level as Carmelo Anthony in terms of popularity (definitely not playing ability). The 40-year-old Marbury has won three CBA championships and has made it clear that retirement is quickly approaching. The least he could do is come back to America and play in Ice Cube’s BIG3 basketball league.
1. Go To China: Joakim Noah
Joakim Noah was the heart and soul of the Chicago Bulls for several years. Sadly he is a shell of the player that won the Defensive Player Award of the Year award back in 2014. Noah – now a member of the New York Knicks – is no longer the defensive force that he used to be and his offense is next to nothing now. On top of his struggles he was recently hit with a 20 game suspension after testing positive for a banned substance. Noah has taken the suspension in stride by owning up to his mistakes.
With the suspension, injuries, terrible contract and poor play from the two-time All-Star it wouldn’t surprise me if the Knicks decided to move Noah before his contract is up. Question is who is going to take on that horrible four-year, $72 million deal? Noah has the personality to thrive in China; might as well start packing your bags to get a head start on things.
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