New Jersey Nets head coach Avery Johnson cannot wait for the preseason exhibition games against the Houston Rockets in Beijing and Guangzhou on Oct 13 and 16.
"I cannot wait for the flight to get in and meet you guys. When we arrive in China, we will have a young and exiting team, which is led by Brook Lopez and Devin Harris," said the former Dallas Mavericks coach. "We are really excited to have the opportunity to come to China, to meet some of our Chinese fans and also try some real authentic Chinese food."
"Hopefully, we will have the chance to visit the Great Wall and Yao Ming's hometown, Shanghai."
It could have been an eye-catching Chinese matchup if the Nets did not trade power forward Yi Jianlian to the Washington Wizards in June.
Johnson, who was hired in June to be the Nets' coach, said he was sad not to be working with Li but believes he will have a great future in Washington. "Unfortunately, I did not have the chance to work with Yi. But he will definitely have great opportunity in Washington," he said.
Without Yi, Johnson, who led Dallas to its first NBA Finals appearance and four consecutive 50-plus win seasons during his tenure from 2004 to 2008, will rely on big men Lopez, Troy Murphy and No 3 draft pick Derrick Favors to tackle Yao, who is back from injury and playing limited minutes in preseason matches after missing the whole 2009-10 season.
Johnson said Murphy should be able to fill the void left by Li while Favors is expected to be an outstanding player in the near future.
"Murphy is a really nice pick up for us. He's a veteran ... he shoots threes, is a good defender, good rebounder, good free-throw shooter and a tough guy. I really feel he will improve our team.
"We can also see a lot of potential from Favors. He is 6-10 and 246 pounds (2.08m, 111.6kg) now and should get to 6- 11, 265 pounds in the future. He can shoot and he can play above the rim. He's got a high basketball IQ and is only 19 years old. He's the combination of Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and a little bit of Amare Stoudemire."
Johnson is also an admirer of all-star center Yao and says a healthy Yao is still one of the best players in the NBA.
"Yao is outstanding. When he is healthy, he is not only one of the best centers in the NBA but also one of the best players in the league," Johnson said.
"His point production per minute is very high. He's just been unable to keep healthy. Once he is healthy, he is always a big challenge to us as he is so dangerous in the low post.
"Now he is coming back and it will be a great matchup against the Rockets. I would pay to see the match if I was a fan. We're also interested to see what type of shape Yao will be in during the China games."
Since Nets were taken over by Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, rumors have been circulating that Yao might be a good choice for Nets after becoming a free agent along with Denver star Carmelo Anthony.
However, Johnson laughed off the speculation and seems ready to rely on his current roster.
"The Rockets have very good players. We are not there yet. We will use that time in China to practice, to get better. I will also use the games to evaluate our players. Because we have never played together and we need this chance to play together," he said.
"We do not have a superstar or recognized face like Kobe or LeBron or Yao Ming or Kevin Garnett. But that's what the challenge is for us. That's what makes me excited as we have a bunch of young guys who will try to make a name for themselves."
Whether or not a trade goes down, this will be a season of new beginnings for the franchise. Along with the new owner and new coach, the team will be playing at a new home arena, the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. The Nets are scheduled to call Newark home for two seasons before moving to an arena being constructed in Brooklyn, New York.
"I like the challenge and I'd like to see what I can do when you have the opportunity to rebuild a team," Johnson said.
We have a bright future, and I want to be a part of that future. I'm glad to get the chance to be the coach and bring the Nets to China."
NBA China Games
2004: The first NBA Games in China took place on Oct 14 and 17, 2004, when the Houston Rockets and the Sacramento Kings played preseason games at Beijing Capital Stadium and Shanghai Sports Stadium.
Oct 14 Houston Rockets 88 Sacramento Kings 86
Oct 17 Houston Rockets 91 Sacramento Kings 98
2007: The NBA China Games returned to China in October 2007 with three games featuring the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Orlando Magic and the Team China All-Stars. The first game took place at the Qizhong Forest Sports City Arena in Shanghai, and the second and third games at the Venetian Arena in Macao.
Oct 17 Orlando Magic 90 Cleveland Cavaliers 86
Oct 18 Orlando Magic 116 Team China All-Stars 92
Oct 20 Cleveland Cavaliers 84 Orlando Magic 100
2008: The third set of NBA China Games took place in China in October 2008, with two games featuring the Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors playing in Guangzhou and Beijing. The first NBA game played in Guangzhou took place at the Guangzhou Gymnasium, and the second game was at Beijing Olympic Basketball Arena.
Oct 15 Milwaukee Bucks 98 Golden State Warriors 94
Oct 18 Milwaukee Bucks 108 Golden State Warriors 109
2009: The most recent NBA game in Beijing featured the Denver Nuggets and the Indiana Pacers, who played at the Wukesong Arena.
Oct 8 Denver Nuggets 104 Indiana Pacers 126
Oct 11 Denver Nuggets 128 Indiana Pacers 112