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The NBA

July 23, 2007
July 23, 2007

Table of Contents
July 23, 2007

SI Bonus Section: Golf Plus
SI Players: LIFE ON AND OFF THE FIELD
Baseball
  • Henry Aaron is about to be displaced from his spot atop the alltime home run list, but 755 will endure as one of baseball's magical numbers, a lasting monument to an underappreciated star and to the courage and integrity with which the Hammer attained his crown

  • It's after midnight on the East Coast: Do you know where baseball's best closer is? J.J. Putz is in Seattle, saving games with near-historic efficiency

Pro Football

The NBA

Here, Yi

This is an article from the July 23, 2007 issue

His agent doesn't want the No. 6 pick to play in Milwaukee, but when all is said and done, Yi Jianlian will be a Buck

"I AM NOT going to trade him," insists Bucks G.M. Larry Harris when asked about the sixth pick in last month's draft, 7-foot power forward Yi Jianlian of China. Yi's side has been just as adamant: His agent Dan Fegan insists that Yi won't play for Milwaukee and wants him dealt to a larger market, like the Bay Area or Chicago. But Fegan won't win this struggle. Here are five reasons Yi will be in a Bucks uniform when training camp opens in October:

1. Yi has little leverage. Fegan is threatening to have Yi sit out the season, citing a rule that allows a draftee who plays no pro basketball—anywhere—to reenter the draft with the team that initially chose him going uncompensated. (This gambit comes as no surprise because Fegan is the Ari Gold of the NBA, notorious for doing whatever it takes to extract the best deal for his clients.) But Fegan's timing couldn't be worse. With the Olympics being held in Beijing next summer, Yi would risk becoming a pariah back home by selfishly shutting himself down just when his country needs him to be improving. If Yi's performance at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas is any indication, he badly needs a full year of NBA coaching in order to help China win a medal.

2. The Bucks offer a solid opportunity. Fegan's main objection to the Milwaukee roster is that the frontcourt is too crowded to allow Yi much playing time. In fact, the opposite is true: Because they're rebuilding, the Bucks can live with Yi's rookie mistakes for 20 or more minutes per night. Not only will Yi's athletic, slashing style mesh nicely with third-year center Andrew Bogut, but Yi could also seize minutes from forward Charlie Villanueva, who is coming off major shoulder surgery. "Yi and Bogut have a chance to be a force together for the next 10 years," says Harris. "Do you think Chicago or Golden State [will] give significant playing time to a rookie power forward while they're trying to win an NBA championship? There's no way."

3. Yi's summer league play diminished his trade value. Despite opening with a 23-point effort and scoring 17 fourth-quarter points—including the game-winner for Team China—two days later, Yi struggled against competition that was largely below NBA caliber. China coach Jonas Kazlauskas speculated that the pressures of his standoff with Milwaukee prompted Yi to shoot a horrid 25.5% while averaging 12.4 points. Yi is surely better than he demonstrated in five games in Vegas; in the long run he'll probably rate a tier below the Raptors' Andrea Bargnani, another perimeter-oriented big man who should develop into a more physical player. But after Yi went 0 for 6 with three points and two rebounds in an 88--65 loss to the Knicks, a fellow G.M. was heard telling the Celtics' Danny Ainge, "I'm glad you didn't draft that [expletive]."

4. There is more pressure on the Bucks to keep Yi. By unloading Yi, Milwaukee would establish a disconcerting precedent for commissioner David Stern as he embarks on what promises to be a highly profitable relationship with China. That proposed marriage is already thorny with cultural misunderstandings; the last thing Stern needs is to encourage future Chinese players to challenge the draft's outcome.

5. Fegan has already won. Thanks to Fegan's machinations, the Bucks have publicly assured Yi of a prominent role next season. Harris will also want to validate his controversial selection by doing everything he can to make sure Yi becomes a star. Having raised Yi's profile beyond that of a typical No. 6 pick, Fegan can easily back off his trade demand and reach a truce with Milwaukee.

ONLY AT SI.COM A new column from Ian Thomsen four times a week.

Scout's Take

On Grant Hill's signing a two-year, $3.8 million free-agent deal with the Suns:

"Grant attempted only 12 three-pointers last season, [while] the Suns emphasize the three-point line to the extent that they'd have four players out there, which spreads the floor for Amaré Stoudemire inside. Now they're taking a calculated risk by slightly changing their style, with Amaré playing inside and Grant playing his mid-range game, [putting] the ball on the floor to get his pull-up jumpers. It will be a different look, but there should be space for him to create those shots, and they're obviously getting leadership from another high-character guy to go with Steve Nash and Raja Bell."

PHOTOGREG NELSON (YI)BIG TROUBLE? The Bucks are still high on Yi despite his poor performance in Vegas.PHOTOROSS D. FRANKLIN/AP (HILL)