In looking through some of the posts I have seen today pertaining to the Yi Jianlian situation I feel that a clarification of Yi's bargaining position is needed. The first point that needs to be dealt with is the simple question of "How long does Milwaukee have Yi's rights?" To answer that question, here are a pair of excerpts from the NBA's collective bargaining agreement:
Section 4. Negotiating Rights to Draft Rookies.
(a) A Team that drafts a player shall, during the period from the date of such NBA Draft (hereinafter, the “Initial Draft”) to the date of the next Draft (hereinafter, the “Subsequent Draft”), be the only Team with which such player may negotiate or sign a Player Contract, provided that, on or before the July 15 immediately following the Initial Draft (for a First Round Pick), or in the two (2) weeks before the September 5 immediately following the Initial Draft (for a Second Round Pick), such Team has made a Required Tender to such player. If a Team has made a Required Tender to such a player and the player has not signed a Player Contract within the period between the Initial Draft and the Subsequent Draft, the Team that drafted the player shall lose its exclusive right to negotiate with the player and the player will then be eligible for selection in the Subsequent Draft.
Also pertinent to this topic...
Section 5. Effect of Contracts with Other Professional Teams.
If a player is drafted by a Team in either an Initial or Subsequent Draft and, during a period in which he may negotiate and sign a Player Contract with only the Team that drafted him, and either (x) is a party to a previously existing player contract with a professional basketball team not in the NBA that covers all or any part of the NBA Season immediately following said Initial or Subsequent Draft, or (y) signs such a player contract, then the following rules will apply:
(a) Subject to Section 5(b) below, the Team that drafts the player shall retain the exclusive NBA rights to negotiate with and sign him for the period ending one (1) year from the earlier of the following two dates: (i) the date the player notifies such Team that he is available to sign a Player Contract with such Team immediately, provided that such notice will not be effective until the player is under no contractual or other legal impediment to sign and play with such Team for the then-current Season (if applicable) and any future Season; or (ii) the date of the NBA Draft occurring in the twelve-month period from September 1 to August 30 in which the player notifies such Team of his availability and intention to play in the NBA during the Season immediately following said twelve-month period, provided that such notice will not be effective until the player is under no contractual or other legal impediment to sign and play with such Team for the then-current Season (if applicable) and any future Season.
In simple terms what the above sections say is that if Yi does not sign a contract with another pro team (Chinese or European) in the next year then Milwaukee will lose their rights to Yi and he will then be eligible for the 2008 Draft. Therefore, if Yi and his handlers truly are determined to keep Yi out of Milwaukee they could just have him play for the national team for a year and then re-enter the draft leaving the Bucks completely empty handed. I can assure you, coming out of the deepest draft in recent memory with nothing after having the #6 pick will not fly with Bucks' GM Larry Harris. If the Bucks are unable to sign Yi to a contract by the time the season starts they need to trade him. Plain and simple. Otherwise they won't get anything from the pick at all. So who would be buying? Golden State was mentioned many times as a possible destination for Yi, but their trade to get Brandan Wright has likely ended their interest. This essentially leaves the 76ers as the only major trading partner left that has expressed interest in Yi all along. At this point, don't you think Larry Harris wishes he could take it all back and just draft Joakim Noah instead?
What this situation exposes is the fact that foreign players have the upper hand in these types of negotiations as long as they are willing to sacrifice a year's worth of income. Certainly the NBA and the Player's Association did not foresee such a power play at the time when they wrote the CBA, but this loophole certainly needs to be closed when the next CBA is negotiated. Otherwise elite prospects who are unhappy with the team that drafts them could follow Yi's lead and essentially choose their team, rendering the draft useless.
Update: As pointed out by Henry Abbot at True Hoop, if Yi is still technically under contract with his Chinese team the Bucks window of opportunity would be extended for a 12 month period after the end of that contract.