CHICAGO — Not every player signing happens solely because of the basketball end of the NBA’s business.
The Mavericks have put the wheels in motion to sign veteran Chinese swingman Ding Yanyuhang and have him play in their summer league and likely be on their training camp roster, president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said.
Ding, 23, has been playing professionally in the Chinese Basketball Association and was that league’s domestic MVP this past season. He averaged 23.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 39 games for Shandong, which went 22-16 and lost in the first round of the playoffs to eventual champion Xinjiang.
Ding has become one of China’s best players and the Mavericks are hopeful he can grow into a solid NBA contributor. The fact that he fits in with the team’s youth movement helps, too.
There would be other benefits to having him on the roster.
Tapping into the huge Chinese market has been a focus of the NBA for several years. Signing a player born in China would be a tremendous boost for the Mavericks’ global cache. And it would give them an entryway into a social media market that has exploded.
Owner Mark Cuban declined to comment about Ding. He said more will be known after July 1 when the signing can become official.
However, Cuban last year hired a Mandarin-speaking employee, Ryan Kline. He is from Dallas and attended Yale. He, too, declined to talk about the impact that Ding might have on the Mavericks off the court.
It’s clear, though, that Cuban values the Chinese marketplace and believes that sponsorships and fan interaction in that country could spark a major connection between the Mavericks and sports fans in Asia.
Sports and social media have collided in China to produce massive interest in American leagues, with the NBA establishing itself front and center by opening an office in Shanghai.
Nelson envisions that Ding could be a candidate for the new two-way designation that teams have at their disposal for the coming season. But he is young enough to have a chance to be an NBA-caliber player. Ding has played professionally for six seasons.
The two-way contracts allow a team to sign a player that would not count against the 15-man roster limit and could shuttle between the NBA and the team’s NBA Development League outlet. In the Mavericks’ case, that’s the Texas Legends in Frisco. Players signed to two-way contracts can spend 45 days with the NBA team before they have to be extended a qualifying offer to stay.
This will not be the Mavericks’ first foray into the Chinese player market. They signed Wang ZhiZhi to a contract in 2000 after drafting him in the second round in 1999. He was the first Chinese player to sign an NBA contract and played 60 games for the Mavericks over two seasons.
Wang averaged 5.6 points and shot 41.4-percent from 3-point range in 55 games in 2001-02.
CORRECTION, 11:52 p.m., May 12, 2017: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Ding Yanyuhang as Ding Jinhui.