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More smoke than fire

Yi saga will end as it started; judging summer moves

Posted: Thursday July 19, 2007 12:50PM; Updated: Thursday July 19, 2007 4:30PM
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Yi Jianlian and the Chinese national team have too much at stake to let the No. 6 draft pick walk away from the Bucks and the NBA.
Yi Jianlian and the Chinese national team have too much at stake to let the No. 6 draft pick walk away from the Bucks and the NBA.
Clive Rose/Getty Images for DAGOC
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Call this the Summer of Yi, which is another way of saying we're wasting inordinate time worrying over the player movement that has -- and mainly hasn't -- taken place since the NBA Draft.

Not only is Yi Jianlian, the Chinese forward drafted No. 6 overall last month by the Bucks, the source of the only real big news by threatening to hold out rather than sign with Milwaukee, but he is also the poster child for this much-ado-about-nothing offseason.

Come October, I am 98 percent certain you are going to see Yi in training camp for the Milwaukee Bucks. As I suggest in this week's edition of Sports Illustrated, the main reasons are: (1) the threats of his agent, Dan Fegan, have already earned a promise of major playing time for his client from the Bucks, which is a huge score for a No. 6 pick, and (2) Yi cannot afford to hold out from pro basketball or return to the Chinese league in the year before the Olympics come to Beijing.

Or did you not notice the spanking Yao Ming absorbed this week from the Chinese sports federation? Yao was publicly hammered for not making a complete investment in the Chinese national team this summer. "No matter how lofty public welfare activities are, they can't be allowed to take first place in a player's life," wrote the China Sports Daily, mouthpiece of the federation. "No matter how sweet personal life is, it can't be compared to the exultation of capturing glory for one's nation."

In the bigger picture, Yao is to Yi as Michael Jordan is to Gerald Green. But if the Chinese equivalent of Jordan is belittled for not devoting himself to the 2008 Olympics, then how will its Green be treated for holding out when he should be doing everything possible to improve himself over the year ahead?

Yi shot 25 percent from the floor against NBA Summer League teams in Las Vegas, evidence that he needs a lot of work before he's capable of helping China earn a medal. He is not going to hold out when he needs to be helping in "the exultation of capturing glory for one's nation."

One additional factor I didn't mention in the magazine is China is hoping the Olympics will demonstrate that it is an open and competitive marketplace. That trend would be blighted in a very public way if Yi were to be prevented from competing in the greatest basketball melting pot on earth.

Unless the Bucks do a 180 and trade him, which I don't see happening, Yi is going to be playing for them next year. And we'll all feel like patsies for ever thinking he would do otherwise.

The underlying reason so much attention has been spent on an unfinished player, such as Yi, is so little has happened since the draft. The top free agents (other than Rashard Lewis) have stayed put for big raises, and Kevin Garnett has yet to be traded, and it appears increasingly likely he will start the season with the Timberwolves, much as Allen Iverson began last season with the 76ers after Philadelphia spent the previous summer failing to trade him.

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