The Xinjiang Flying Tigers in China are looking to sign Jamal Crawford now that the 2011-12 NBA season appears to be in jeopardy, according to sources close to the situation.
Xinjiang has the biggest budget in China even after signing Kenyon Martin and a fresh opening in its backcourt thanks to an injury suffered by ex-NBA guard Quincy Douby, formerly a first-round pick of the Sacramento Kings.
League rules only allow Chinese teams to sign NBA free agents, but sources say Xinjiang is hoping to capitalize on the uncertainty created by the NBA's suddenly-uncertain future to land Crawford and fill its need for a backcourt scorer. Crawford, who won the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award with the Atlanta Hawks in 2010, recently switched agents to sign with Andy Miller, who did Martin's deal with Xinjiang.
Xinjiang is one of the Chinese teams that negotiated with Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant earlier this summer. The Flying Tigers, sources say, would love to make another run at Bryant, but the Chinese Basketball Association instituted rules in the summer that prevent its teams from signing any player with an existing NBA contract or offering an NBA out clause in any new contract.
The challenge for Xinjiang, as with all teams in China, will be convincing Crawford to sign there when teams in other countries are offering short-term deals with outs that permit an immediate return to the NBA. Martin and former Denver teammates Wilson Chandler and J.R. Smith are the most prominent NBA free agents to sign in China, but all three have thus sacrificed their right to play in the NBA this season before the Chinese season ends in March, unless any of their respective teams elect to release them sooner outright.
Sources say that Xinjiang management, desperate to win a CBA championship this season, will insist that Martin and any other player it signs out of the NBA stay for the entire Chinese season even if the lockout is eventually lifted and the 2011-12 NBA season is saved. Speculation continues to circulate in Chinese basketball circles that Chandler and Smith could be released by their respective Chinese teams -- both in the province of Zhejiang -- once the lockout ends, despite the fact that teams in the CBA have been threatened with sanctions if they waive players in-season to return to the NBA.
League play in China is scheduled to begin Nov. 19.
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com