While Kenyon Martin, JR Smith and Wilson Chandler have all either returned to the NBA from China or laid the groundwork to do so, all signs point to Sun backup PG Aaron Brooks sitting out the entire NBA season.
In NBA terms, Brooks is currently a restricted free agent. His rookie NBA contract expired officially expired on June 30, 2011, though the Suns retain exclusive rights on the third-year player. Brooks can sign an offer sheet from an NBA competitor, but the Suns have the right to match it and keep him. Brooks cannot go anywhere else in the NBA without the Suns express approval.
He was able to sign in China, though, during the NBA lockout. At the moment, Brooks is leading the #1-seed (and 4-time defending champion) Guandong Tigers to a 2-0 advantage in the first round of the Chinese Basketball League (CBA) playoffs. The Tigers are the favorite to win the title, almost certainly meaning they will play into late March, and Brooks is their best player. He leads the team in PPG (21.2), assists (4.7), steals (1.9) and free-throw % (84.9), and is second in 3-pt % (41.6) and third in field-goal % (54.0).
Brooks was one of four major NBA players who signed lucrative but exclusive contracts with Chinese basketball teams before the lockout ended, meaning they could not re-sign with an NBA team prior to ending of their Chinese team's season. Kenyon Martin, JR Smith and Wilson Chandler have all wiggled out of their team's plans anyway (Chandler doing so on the eve of his team's playoff run).
Will Brooks follow Chandler, Smith and Martin's lead, leaving his #1-seeded team in a lurch during their playoff run? So far, no. Don't expect Brooks to return to the US any earlier than late March.
And don't expect him to sign another NBA contract until at least July 1, 2012.
While Martin and Smith were unrestricted free agents, able to sign with any NBA team of their choosing, Wilson Chandler and Aaron Brooks are restricted. Their rights are held by Denver and Phoenix, respectively.
As restricted free agents, the only way Chandler and Brooks can leave their current NBA team for another NBA team is to sign an "offer sheet". The "offer sheet" becomes a contract within 3 days, with the original team having the right to take it on or allowing the new team to take it. However, offer sheets can only be tendered by March 1 of any league year, and this year is no different.
So, if Brooks and Chandler are not back in the states (and cleared by FIBA to re-join the NBA) by March 1, the players have only two remaining choices
The current team can offer a multi-year contract to keep the player long-term, or just give them a one-year contract and let them walk away on July 1 with no compensation. Obviously, the latter option is the worst one for the team.
Denver knows this and is playing hardball. They have told Chandler he has only two options - sign a reasonable, long-term deal (backup money) right now, or sit out the season and try it again this summer as a restricted free agent. Either way, Denver is keeping control.
Chandler's only play is to garner an offer sheet from another team by March 1. With that deadline only a few days away, Wilson Chandler just bailed on his Chinese team on the eve of the playoffs.
Chandler Wilson (203-F-87, college: De Paul) of the Zhejiang Guangsha Lions has been told by Lions Management that he can come back in the NBA as soon as the Lions clinched a playoff spot. The Lions are the 6 seed in the CBA playoffs which begin next Thursday. In addition to missing the playoffs, Chandler is also going to miss the all-star game as well.
The Lions management had put the onus on Chandler to make the decision whether he is going to stay with the Lions for the playoffs because they didnt want him in a poor mindset as the playoffs progressed.
If Chandler receives FIBA clearance by March 1, he can try to garner an offer sheet from some team with cap room to drive up Denver's price.
But with Arron Afflalo and Danilo Gallinari already signed to long-term deals on the wing, Denver likely doesn't want to tie up another big chunk in a bench player. And, few NBA teams have the cap room this season anyway to offer a big contract to Chandler.
So an unreasonable offer sheet is not likely. Sitting out the NBA season is likely Chandler's best financial option, and he can't even enjoy a playoff run in China.
The Phoenix Suns have the same level of control over Aaron Brooks.
It appears that Brooks realizes this, and has decided to ride out the Chinese season through the playoffs. There are worse things than winning a championship as a team's best player.
By doing so, he will miss the NBA offer-sheet deadline (March 1) and the trade deadline (March 15) entirely. By the time his team's season is likely done in late March, there will only be a month of Suns games left and only one possible NBA suitor for his services.
If the Suns offer a prorated contract for the remainder of this season, he can become unrestricted this summer. But why would the Suns do this? Why get only a month of play and then let Brooks go anywhere he wants this summer for nothing in return?
The Suns could sign Brooks to a long-term deal this March, but that seems almost impossible. The Suns are not signing anyone to long-term deals at this time. Even Steve Nash is waiting for the summer to unfold.
Alternately, the Suns can just let Brooks dangle on the vine (with no other NBA options) for a month, and then start the restricted free agency process all over again this summer. That way, they retain maximum options with him. If they let Steve Nash go this summer, they have the right to bring Brooks back as a PG option. If they keep Nash, then Brooks is an asset as a viable PG option for many NBA teams.
While neither side has spoken of the other to the media, all signs point to Aaron Brooks sitting out the rest of the NBA season.
This season Nash is an All-Star for the 8th time in his career, the only representative of the current 13th seed in the West. In an age where most NBA athletes are searching for fame, cash, a title, or all of the above, Nash is a rare example of a grounded man who exemplifies rare qualities or a professional athlete. You could call him the Buddha of the NBA. He has made a home in Arizona. He has found a place to work that makes him happy, with co-workers he enjoys spending time with and a boss he respects.
Isn't that enough for the NBA world to process and conclude what makes the 2-time MVP tick? Is this enough for the local beat writers and national media brokers to think before they start tapping away about how Nash could push their team over the top and into a title contender?
But what of the end goal? This is the era of "Win or Go Home." The era of "Big 3's" and players constructing their own squads with one thought in mind-winning everything. Nash has once again reiterated he doesn't need to win it all. He is a man whose searched his soul and decided what's important in his life. "...Well, it's not the end of the world. No one's sick or dying. It's basketball. We're disappointed in what's happened thus far (in the current season) ... but still ... there's no reason to hang your head and not enjoy your life."
Take that, LeBron.
Trade talk? Mediocre team? Nash still a star
"I will say it's rewarding to be an All-Star at this stage of my career because of all the sacrifices I've made, but it's not more rewarding because of the team situation. If anything, it's less rewarding."
Nash has had an illustrious career full of hours and hours of highlight reel material: clutch buckets, unfathomable assists, improbable team victories, and 2 MVP awards. But the honor and joy of an NBA title has escaped the grasp of this future Hall of Famer, and he doesn't seem to mind. Why? Doesn't the big W mean everything to him? Could anyone still question his competitive desire? "No one wants to win more than he does," said Alvin Gentry. "No one is more competitive than he is. Steve only knows one way to play ... he knows 100 miles per hour. He's not going to pace himself..." And at 38 years old, Nash could be considering winding it down, in fact, he could have taken his 2 MVP's and called it a career. But he hasn't. "He works so hard, He's always doing whatever it takes to be ready for the next game. That might be shooting, running, lifting ... even on days off, he's here ... making sure he's ready," said yet another player who has benefited from Nash's unselfish play, Marcin Gortat.
And that is why Steve Nash will be a Sun for as long as he wants. He is fulfilled. Fulfilled by his off the court pursuits as humanitarian, film maker, and father. Fulfilled by the joy playing a game has given him, the individuals he has played for and with, and most importantly, fulfilled because he knows he gave every ounce of effort he had to give.