Given how much he has meant to Chinese basketball, it was inevitable that Stephon Marbury's free agency would wind up being one of the biggest stories of the Chinese Basketball Association offseason. But Monday's latest twist in the ongoing soap opera that is Starbury In China was especially baroque.
For those unfamiliar with Marbury's latest melodrama, here is a quick recap. After the Beijing Ducks missed the playoffs, Marbury wanted the front office to pick up its team option for the final year on his deal. Having guided the Ducks to three CBA titles in four years, the American thought he had the clout to get his way even though the Ducks roster was in dire need of fresh legs.
He didn't. Marbury was pushed out, and the Ducks not only refused to give the American his final year but marginalized another key Marbury ally, head coach Min Lulei, by moving him to a new position and hiring a replacement with ties to the team's general manager. But if Ducks' idea was to make a clean break from the star who came to define their franchise, it didn't work. Instead of finally being able to move on from Marbury, the Ducks might have to see him more often than they had anticipated.
The Ducks have the Beijing Beikong Fly Dragons to thank for that. The Dragons are an expansion team bought and moved to the capital in 2015 by local investors who had seen first hand how big basketball was becoming in the city. So far, the move has not been a success; in the three years since being moved to the CBA, the team has gone 26-78. Think of them as the New York Mets to the Ducks' Yankees, if the Mets were significantly worse and also employed Shavlik Randolph.
Given their location, the Dragons quickly became the odds-on favorite to sign Marbury since he was released by the Ducks. The Dragons are also aware they have lucked into a winning hand. Even at 40, Marbury is a solid player who last year averaged 16.3 points per game. His presence would give the Dragons their first taste of positive media coverage since they joined the CBA. According to Sina Sports, "negotiations have entered a substantive stage… [and Marbury] is expected to sign."
What's a major breakthrough for the Dragons is a nightmare scenario for the Ducks. Although some fans understood the need to release Marbury, others were furious that their team exiled an iconic player who had gone out of his way to endear himself to the city. Some of those Ducks fans have already promised they will defect if the crosstown move goes through.
Sina is calling the potential union a "win-win situation" for both Marbury and the Dragons, but there is one obvious loser if the deal happens. The Ducks, one of China's oldest teams, regard themselves as bigger than Marbury. Though saying goodbye was hard, it's more difficult still to see both their former star and a chunk of their fan base in the colors of their runty little brother. Imagine Derek Jeter signing with the Mets and you're in the right neighborhood.
Given that both these teams will be in a rebuilding mode next year, Marbury could also help the Dragons become the better team for the first time since their move to the capital. It's both a fascinating development and proof that Marbury can still grab headlines even as he drifts further from his prime.