Chinese NBA basketball player Yi Jianlian, the main man in the post-Yao Ming era, will return to play in China, state media reported, as the NBA season is threatened by a protracted lockout of players.
Team owners and players in the United States have failed to agree on how to divide $3.8 billion in annual revenues and issues around a salary cap, extending the lockout beyond 100 days.
This has forced several NBA players to start looking for playing opportunities elsewhere.
According to the official Xinhua news agency, Yi -- who played for the Washington Wizards -- has signed a contract with the Guangdong Southern Tigers ahead of the start of the Chinese Basketball Association season in November.
The team's manager Liu Hongjiang was quoted as saying that the 23-year-old had signed a one-season contract "with an option to leave once he accepts an invitation from NBA teams."
NBA commissioner David Stern said earlier this week that if no deal was reached by Monday -- which would be day 102 of the lockout -- the NBA would wipe out the first two weeks of its schedule.
Players and club owners face hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue and risk alienating loyal supporters if this happens.
Liu acknowledged that Yi may not stay long if the lockout was resolved and he returned to the NBA.
"Although he may not stay with us very long, I am quite sure his return is good for himself, the team and Chinese fans as well," Liu was quoted as saying in the Saturday report.
"He could keep his edge in the CBA, our team will also benefit from his skills and fans certainly want to see him play in his best years."
Yi, the 2.02-metre forward, is China's great NBA hope after superstar Yao -- a hero to hundreds of millions of basketball-mad Chinese -- announced his retirement in July.