Yi Jianlian, the former No. 6 overall pick, will make his return to the NBA this coming season with the Los Angeles Lakers.
For the forward/center to leave the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), where he is a mega star, it had to take a promising deal from the Lakers which includes bonuses that could reach up to $8 million a year over a veteran minimum $1.1 million contract.
The Lakers already have a stacked frontcourt. After signing former Cleveland Cavaliers center Timofey Mozgov to a four-year deal in free agency, they re-signed Tarik Black to a two-year extension. They also drafted Ivica Zubac with the No.32 pick. Add Julius Randle and Larry Nance to that mix and the Lakers could struggle to find minutes for Yi.
Hypothetical breakdown of frontcourt rotation:
Mozgov (26 minutes) / Black (12 minutes) / Zubac (10 minutes)
Randle (30 minutes) / Nance (18 minutes)
In such a scenario, Lakers coach Luke Walton would struggle to find playing time for Yi, who needs to deliver on the court to make as much as $8 million via bonuses. If Yi doesn’t see any playing time, his trip from China back to the United States wouldn’t prove fruitful.
Yi Jianlian: A 3-pt threat
Compared to the other big men on the Lakers roster, Yi is the only one capable of stretching the floor due to his marksmanship from three-point territory.
During the Olympics, Yi shot an amazing 47 per cent from downtown while averaging 20.4 points and 6.6 rebounds for Team China. The Lakers shouldn’t expect those stats but Yi’s ability to stretch the floor should earn him playing time above the likes of Black and Randle who don’t possess efficient jump shots.
It shouldn’t come as a shock if the Lakers send Zubac and/or Black to the D-League for a month or two. Also, Mozgov’s history of injuries has given the Lakers reason to sign Yi as a back-up.
“We’re excited to have a player of his worldwide accomplishments. We look forward to bringing him to training camp and hopefully having him make an impact on our team,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said after signing Yi to a deal.
During the 2014-15 CBA season, Yi Jianlian averaged 27.7 points and 10.9 rebounds.