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Injuries and Expatriates: When to claim Z-Bo, Manu, Wilson Chandler and Aaron Brooks

A reader with the handle “scotch2” posted this question on my Working the Wire column this week:

I'm sure one topic that you and other fantasy writers will be addressing in the following months will be the potential impacts of returning injured/Chinese league players: Ginobili, Wilson Chandler, J.R Smith and Zach Randolph being the biggest off the top of my head. My question is, when do you think is the best time to jump on these waiver players? I have Manu and Z. Bo sitting on the waivers on some of my leagues, and the Chinese league players are sitting on all of them. It's almost a game of chicken, where you have to balance a returning player's great potential for you with the negative return that he'll give by sitting injured on your bench for a while.

These are two very different situations and will require different approaches.

Injured guys first. I don’t know how deep your league is – I’m guessing it’s very shallow – or what the rules are as far as roster size and bench spots and injured reserve and whatnot. I have to assume you have a very limited bench and no injured reserve provision, because that’s the only situation in which it would make any sense to leave a player of Randolph’s or Ginobili’s caliber sitting on the wire. Even though Manu won’t be playing until mid-February and Randolph probably won’t be back until late February or early March, you get those guys right now – unless you absolutely need the roster spot for some other pressing reason (like a plug-and-play injury replacement for Derrick Rose or Dwyane Wade).

The Chinese League players present a much trickier situation. For those not familiar with the back-story, here’s a quick primer. During the lockout, several NBA players made the decision to sign contracts with Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) teams.

Unlike their European counterparts, CBA teams were strictly forbidden by their league to offer contracts with an “opt out” that would allow NBA players to return to the NBA when the lockout was settled. Wilson Chandler, Aaron Brooks and several others apparently decided to gamble that the lockout would kill most of the season or that they’d be able to break their Chinese League contracts when the time came. It appears they were wrong on both counts. In fact, at least one NBA player – ex-Portland Trail Blazer Patty Mills – was waived by his Chinese team but still isn’t able to play in the States because he does not have the appropriate waiver from the CBA. Unless the situation changes significantly, NBA players under contract to CBA teams won’t be available to return until the Chinese basketball season ends in March.

Got all that?

Further complicating matters is the fact that some of the players in China – Chandler and Brooks – are restricted free agents. The Nuggets and Suns, respectively, will have the right to match any offer they get when they are cleared to play – the same way the Hawks were able to hold on to Josh Childress’ free-agent rights the entire time he was playing in Greece.

My guess is Chandler and Brooks will land with their old teams when the time comes – at least through the end of this season. It makes sense for the Suns to retain Brooks, as they could lose Steve Nash to free agency this summer, and Chandler is a great fit for Denver’s team-oriented “no stars” style of play. Both are must-adds in just about any format… and if you’ve got a roster spot and your league allows waiver claims on unsigned players, putting in a claim right now wouldn’t be a horrible idea. (You could always drop one if you need the slot between now and March.)

Some of the other players coming back from China might have value, but might not, depending on where they sign. J.R. Smith is reportedly drawing some interest from the Knicks, who have had all sorts of backcourt trouble this season. He’d be an obvious add if he signs with New York but less valuable if he winds up as a bench scorer with some other team.

Kenyon Martin and Patty Mills are also “wait and see” guys based on where they land.

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