Remember Arsalan Kazemi, the intriguing Iranian rebounding machine who was picked up in the later stages of the 2013 NBA draft? Probably not. At that point most Sixers fans had already walked to the kitchen to pour themselves a stiff drink as the looming consequences of Sam Hinkie's Tankapoolza started to sink in. To date, the only person I know to have mentioned Kazemi since then has been my mother-in-law, who briefly remarked that he was cute and wondered where he had been traded to.
But Kazemi, whose rights remain held by the Sixers, is still around and doing the one thing he is good at; rebounding the ball with the manic urgency of a dog chasing a frisbee. Initially he went back to Iran to play for Petrochima, but after a decent season in his native country, got the call to play in China.
Kazemi's team in the Middle Kingdom were the gloriously named Chongqing Flying Dragons, who had recently been moved up to the Chinese Basketball Association as part of an expansion drive by the league. Typically CBA teams are allowed two foreign roster spots, both of which are normally given to Americans, but for teams that finish in the bottom five from the previous year or are expansion teams, they are allowed a third foreigner from an Asian country. Middle Eastern nations are considered Asian under FIBA rules which in turn means that nearly every team bring in their ‘third foreigner' from Iran, Jordan or Lebanon. Most of these imports are brought in to compliment the American players who will take the bulk of the shots; some are point guards whilst others are defensive specialists. Kazemi and his proclivity for dominating the glass made him a natural fit for a Chinese team. So thus, Kazemi found himself in Chongqing, a monstrous city of over seven million people.
This though is an article about Chinese basketball and so understandably, things did not go smoothly once Kazemi arrived in his new home. Indeed, the Flying Dragons were only aware that they had been moved up from the second tier of Chinese basketball in September even though the CBA itself was due to start two months later. This meant the Dragons, like late arrivals to a Black Friday sale, found themselves fighting over scraps. Other than Kazemi, an already threadbare roster was only able to add ex-New York Knicks flop Josh Harrellson and Willie Warren, a combo guard who had spent the previous year playing in the basketball backwaters of Hungary. No-one had heard of two-thirds of the roster and well into the start of the season, the team's profile page on China's largest basketball website looked like this;
It under these conditions that Kazemi first went to work and the results were not pretty. Chongqing lost their first two games in emphatic fashion, although the power forward had fourteen rebounds in his first game and nineteen a few days later. Then however, things got weird. In early November, it emerged that Kazemi would have to leave China immediately due to visa issues. The Iranian had entered China on a tourist visa as opposed to, you know, his professional basketball team filling out the paperwork to get an actual working visa. The Dragons had ignored a new CBA bylaw about import players being fully registered as foreign employees, essentially it seemed, as a way of saving some money. If only to make it even more absurd, Kazemi's visa issues inspired the CBA to go digging into other front offices' visa arrangements and it was discovered that at least one further club had brought players into the country illegally.
Given that he could have been deported, Kazemi was forced to leave China whilst his new visa was finalized and in the meantime, Chongqing lost another six games (including one by a scoreline of 141-85). It would take almost three weeks before the Iranian was allowed to return and when he did finally get to come back to China, the team was a mess.
That was two months ago but unsurprisingly, Chongqing are still a disaster. At the time of writing, the 3-29 Dragons are on pace to record one of the worst statistical seasons in the history of Chinese basketball. Kazemi, a player who cannot shoot, is currently the team's second leading scorer with 14.8 points a game, most of which appear come from put-backs and dunks in transition.
Yet somehow the team is still watchable and Kazemi is part of the reason why. With Harrellson long gone (he was cut in November), the entire scoring burden has been placed upon Willie Warren, an affable but unapologetic graduate of the JR Smith school of GETTING POINTZ. The one-time LA Clipper, who once dunked on poor Jumaine Jones with the force of a Mortal Kombat fatality, was basically given the chance of a lifetime; all the shots he wanted for a team that had essentially given up for the year. As a result, Warren is averaging 38.1 points per game and may well end up shattering the CBA regular season scoring record. Kazemi's job in all of this is simple; set the screens for Warren to get to the rim and/or finish off the easy basket when the defense switches heavily onto the latter. As a result, the two are basically keeping the turnstiles turning in Chongqing for a team that could make history for a number of reasons, good or bad.
Given that Kazemi's contract is for this season only, it seems logical that he could then arrive in Philadelphia. Whether or not Hinkie would want to do that remains to be seen (it would almost certainly involve another player being cut to make room). But the reasons for drafting him in 2013 would be the same for bringing him over now; he probably can't hit a jump shot, he certainly can't make free-throws (in China, he's currently going to the line seven times but only making 57% of them) but he can flat out rebound. Although he is averaging 13.4 rebounds per game right now, his numbers have been muddled due to odd minutes allocation and a dry patch when he first returned to China after several weeks on the sidelines. In his last game for Chongqing, he had twenty rebounds so the one real skill he has is still present and correct. Moreover, of the three draft picks from Hinkie's first draft, MCW and Nerlens Noel have both since got onto the court. For cult hero status alone, it now makes sense to bring Kazemi home as well. Finish the job, Sixers; finish the job.