At the end of last season, after the Carmelo Anthony trade, the Denver Nuggets were a deep, deep team. 10 guys played double-digit minutes for the Nuggs in the playoffs, and that’s not some weird Future Stars Youth League fairness thing, as all of those dudes would have played big minutes for most of the league’s playoff teams. Even Chris Andersen.

Next season, assuming we have one, might be a little different since all of their players are going to be in China when things finally start. First was NBA superstar Wilson Chandler, and now it’s J.R. Smith. From Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski:

Denver Nuggets free-agent guard J.R. Smith has signed a one-year contract with Zhejiang of the China Basketball Association, a source told Yahoo! Sports.

Smith and Nuggets free-agent forward Wilson Chandler are now the two highest-paid players in the Chinese league. Neither player can return to play in the NBA until the end of the Chinese season.

Ball Don’t Lie’s Eric Freeman sums things up pretty well, saying, “It’s cool to imagine [Smith] launching golf balls over the Great Wall and wrestling pandas for kicks, but [he belongs] in the NBA.” Exactly right. J.R. Smith’s Chinese expedition will surely be hilarious, and he will probably return with some nonsense tattoos that we all have some laughs about, but he’s a guy that needs to be in the NBA. He made The Basketball Jones 40 for Pete Myers’ sake.

He will be missed, but he’s not the only other other Nugget who’s leaving the Association. From Sports Illustrated’s Sam Amick:

When NBA journeyman Melvin Ely heard the latest doomsday news of the league’s labor situation, he offered a hearty shrug.

His good-riddance tour had already begun, as he recently decided to play in China on a one-year, no opt-out deal that he expects to be completed next week. After eight seasons with five teams as a role player, he has no intention of ever coming back to the NBA in his basketball life.

Dag. Melvin Ely isn’t just leaving the NBA for a year, he’s leaving for good. That’s not a huge loss, considering he’s never been much more than a bit player, but I am still going to miss him. I have very fond memories of his Thornton Township High School teams — where he played with former Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antwaan Randle El, his brother Curtis, and University of Michigan receiver Tai Streets — wearing jerseys with sleeves and dunking way too often for a high school team. Plus there was that one time some announcer pronounced his last name like Mario Elie’s, which was pretty funny. He’s gone forever now, which is too bad for people from northern Illinois. Miss you.

So that’s three Nuggets who are leaving Denver for the friendly confines of China. That makes it a trend, so it is logical to assume even more Nuggets will be heading to the Chinese Basketball Association and that this phenomenon will get picked up the New York Times Style section. At this point, they might as well form their own team over there since they’ve already got a guard, forward and center.