With Yi Jianlian leaving to play in the US and as the pressure of the upcoming Beijing Olympics builds, Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) officials expect to take a hit in revenues this season.
The 2007-08 season, which starts on October 27 with an opening showdown between Bayi and Guangdong, has spent the last 13 years cultivating its Chinese fan base and turning out international stars like Yi and Yao Ming.
But with the Olympics looming, officials have decided to shorten the new season by about three months, compressing it into a four-month schedule to give more time to the national team to practice for the Olympics.
"What I care about most is the performance of our national team at the Olympics," said CBA chief Li Yuanwei. "The league will give way to the national team training camps next year and the performance of national team players will be our top concern.
"We hope the professional league and national team will benefit each other and make efforts to raise the level of Chinese basketball together."
China's ballers will be looking to improve upon their showing at the Sydney Games where they finished eighth overall, their best finish ever. But China has fallen short of expectations recently as the team won just four out of its last 17 games in three summer tournaments - the NBA Summer League, the Stankovic Cup and the European Tour.
Li said the upcoming CBA season will give the national team its first chance to improve.
"The league will offer them a good opportunity to adjust or to improve," he said. "I hope CBA will lend a hand to their final preparation for the Games."
Despite 300 million local basketball fans, the CBA has yet to fully reach its potential. The league has been criticized for its poor-quality defense, boring schedule and shortage of home stars.
The league canceled more than 100 matches last season to allow the national team to prepare for the Asian Games, predictably leading to a sharp decrease in ticket sales.
This year may attract even fewer fans due to the departure of Yi, who was the No 6 pick in the NBA draft by Milwaukee Bucks and was one of the CBA's most popular players. But there are still plenty of exciting players.
Former NBA center Menk Bateer returns to the CBA after playing for the Denver Nuggets, Toronto Raptors and San Antonio Spurs between 2001 and 2004. He didn't play much in the NBA, but he is still considered one of the best centers in China and he should give a boost to Xinjiang Guanghui, which looks to be one of this season's elite clubs.
Bateer, 32, who took one year off after playing for the Beijing Ducks in the 2005-06 season, signed a one-year contract with Guanghui this summer reportedly worth 4.2 million RMB (US$ 555,556).
"This is a great return for me, I am excited about my new start here in the CBA," said Bateer. "I'm trying hard to get back the touch I had some years ago but it will take some time. I see a lot of new faces on my team and I am very happy to be back in the CBA at the end of my career."
Joining Bateer on the comeback trail is four-time CBA Most Valuable Player Liu Yudong. The veteran joined Fujian Xunxing after a two-year retirement.
Li believes the returning legend will help fill the vacancy of Yi's absence.
"I don't worry about losing fans," he said. "We have our own legends coming back and I think this season will be an encouraging one for everybody."
Along with the shortened schedule and a shortage of superstars, the CBA has to deal with the challenge from NBA, which wooed fans at the China Games last week.
At the China Games the NBA announced the establishment of NBA China, which will be headed by Microsoft China's outgoing boss, Tim Chen. It is seen as a first step towards an eventual NBA-managed Chinese domestic league.
The Houston Rockets and Milwaukee Bucks are also set to attract lots of attention this NBA season, with an Yi-Yao showdown scheduled for China's lunar New Year.
But the CBA boss takes an open attitude to its overseas competitor.
"I am not concerned that fans will only watch NBA," said Li. "CBA is open to all the cooperation from around the world, not only from the United States, but also from European countries."
Currently the Swiss-based sports management group Infront has a long-term agreement to run marketing operations for the CBA and is in the second year of a three-year deal to market the China national team.