J.R. Smith reads a children's book to his Chinese fans (Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty).
With J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin already back in the NBA and Aaron Brooks and Wilson Chandler soon to return, four players' lockout-inspired China Basketball Association adventures are essentially over. What once seemed like a good way to make money and increase international star power during an NBA break turned out to be a bit of a mess. Foreign stars are expected to do a lot overseas, and the expectations for notable NBA players were even higher. That things didn't work out perfectly was mostly due to a lack of communication and the cultural divide.
Yet to say that these players didn't get along with their teams equally is entirely wrong, because Smith broke all sorts of records for team-player animosity during his season with Zhejiang Chouzhou. In November, Smith raised the ire of the team when he handled an apparent knee injury in poor form — they even thought he was faking it. And while things appeared to improve once Stephon Marbury played peacemaker — yes, that really happened — it turns out the relationship between Smith and Zhejiang was strained until he left a few weeks ago.
According to a report published by NetEase, Smith had US $1.06 million deducted from his salaryover the course of the season for missing practices. Most of the missed practices came during pre-season while his team, Zhejiang Chouzhou, was getting ready for the start of the regular season. The sum was deducted from his salary, a final number that represented about one-third of his total salary.
Zhejiang Chouzhou general manager, Zhao Bing, said that the team was simply enforcing a clause in Smith's signed contract and that the team gave him ample warning throughout.
"This was the arrangement when he came to the team," said Zhao. "Every practice we let him know. If he expressed to us that he wasn't going to come to practice, we'd tell him that in accordance with our contract, we're deducting money from your salary. And he'd always get back to us with, 'Whatever. If you're going to take it, then just take it.'"
The article adds that Zhao Bing repeatedly told J.R. about the seriousness of the situation, but that he continued with the attitude that it was an unimportant issue for him.
We can only assume that Smith missed practices to spend time with his pet panda, named "Brad Garrett" in honor of his favorite actor on "Everybody Loves Raymond."
It's no great surprise to hear that Smith was checked out mentally, since he hasn't exactly been the most focused or authority-friendly player in the NBA, either. Still, it's a little bizarre to think that he voluntarily lost one-third of his salary in a job that seemed valuable primarily for the money involved; it's not as if J.R. really loved playing for Zhejiang or feels a special debt to Chinese basketball. This gig was a paycheck gig, and yet he wasn't that interested in maximizing his paycheck. Where's the sense there?
Let this be yet another reminder that J.R. Smith defies expectations and explanations as a rule. This is the kind of guy he is. It makes him fascinating and frustrating in equal measures.