So now it begins.
Ever since the NBA Draft Yi Jianlian has been oddly silent in regards to his situation with the Milwaukee Bucks. So much so that even when he agreed to an interview with an NBA.com reporter he stipulated that there could be no questions regarding Milwaukee. (And the reporter accepted. Journalistic integrity? Anyone?) Now however, the complexion of Yi's situation is begging to become much clearer than mere speculation. Yesterday both Marc Stein and Chad Sheridan offered new insight on the state of the Yi saga. Sheridan wrote:
"If the stalemate continues, the only way Yi could make himself eligible for the 2008 draft would be to sit out an entire season. If he were to return to his pro team in China for the 2007-08 season, the Bucks would retain his NBA rights.
At this point, if I had to say whether I thought Yi will ever play a game for the Bucks, I'd have to say no. Yi's camp seems extremely determined to force the Bucks to trade his rights, and at a certain point I believe Harris and the Bucks owner, Sen. Herb Kohl, will simply throw their hands up and decide they don't want the headache anymore."
Stein also offered a similar take:
"Yi's camp insists that he won't sign with the Bucks and that the 19-year-old is prepared to play no professional basketball for a year to make himself eligible to re-enter the draft in 2008, unless the Bucks trade his draft rights....
...Yi didn't outright demand a trade but, according to sources, insisted that it remains his wish -- as opposed to an agenda being pushed by Nike or his American agent Dan Fegan -- to play in a bigger market with a larger Asian population."
There are two extremely important points in the above quotes. First, Stein reports that Yi himself (not just his agent) wants out of Milwaukee. The assumption by many was that Yi was merely letting his agent handle the situation, and that he himself did not have a strong feeling either way. Assuming Stein's info is accurate, that does not seem to be the case. The second, and most important point, is that Yi and his camp are making serious rumblings about sitting out a year alltogether and entering the 2008 Draft. (A possibility that I first broke two weeks ago) If Yi is in fact serious about carrying out that threat Milwaukee would find itself forced to either trade Yi or risk losing him for nothing.
Now comes the tricky part. If the Bucks do decide that trading Yi is their only option, what are their options? Yi has expressed a desire to go to a team in a larger media market such as Chicago, New York, or Sacramento, or Golden State. New York would seem to be out of the running after the trade for Zach Randolph, and the Bulls are likely satisfied with their young frontcourt duo of Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah. That leaves Golden State and Sacramento as the most likely trade partners for the Bucks. In examining Sacramento's roster they appear to have very few assets that would be attractive to the Bucks. Milwaukee was seeking to fill a need at either PF or SF through the draft, and the only real trade asset that the Kings have at either position is Ron Artest. The problem for the Kings is that their three top young talents (Kevin Martin, Francisco Garcia, and Quincy Douby) all play SG, where the Bucks already have an All-Star in Michael Redd.
The best trade situation for the Bucks would by far be with Golden State. The Warriors were said to be very high on Yi heading into the draft, and they have the perfect assets to go about acquiring him from the Bucks. Consider; the Bucks need depth at SF and PF. The Warriors have the PF the Bucks would desire in Brandan Wright and could also package one of their free agent SFs (Matt Barnes or Mikael Pietrus) in a sign and trade. Such a deal would benefit both teams, as the Warriors would get the player they coveted all along by merely moving a SF they likely would not have re-signed and the Bucks would add young talent at both of their need positions while saving some face.
Whether or not the Bucks do decide to go the trade route with Yi will likely not be decided for quite some time, as the season is some two and a half months away. What is certain however, is that the Bucks must tread carefully in this situation lest they alienate Yi entirely and lose him for nothing.