Los Angeles Lakers: Yi Jianlian Returns to the NBA


After a disappointing five seasons in the NBA, former Brooklyn (then New Jersey) Nets player Yi Jianlian returned to China to play basketball overseas. Now, Yi is on his way back to the NBA, this time with the Los Angeles Lakers.

According to multiple media reports, the Los Angeles Lakers are close to finalizing a deal with Yi Jianlian. The deal is worth a veteran’s minimum of $1.1 million, but has the potential of increasing to $8 million with incentives.

Though spending just a few years in the NBA, Yi’s most productive seasons were with the Nets. Yi arrived in New Jersey as part of the trade that sent Richard Jefferson to the Milwaukee Bucks. During his two seasons in New Jersey, Yi averaged 10.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 0.8 blocks per game.

At the time, Nets management had high hopes for the young center. New Jersey’s team president Rod Thorn said, “we feel strongly he’s going to be a real good player.” Yi was surprised by the trade, but also stated that it was “an honor to join the Nets.”

"“We feel strongly he’s going to be a real good player.”Nets’ team president Rod Thorn on Yi Jianlian after acquiring Yi from the Bucks"

Unfortunately for Yi, his inexperience, along with a long string of injuries, prevented him from flourishing in New Jersey. Yi was only 21 years old when he played his first game in a Nets uniform.  He showed flashes of potential, but injuries held him back from performing to his fullest. The Nets finished outside the playoffs in both years Yi was on the team, and parted ways with him after the 2009-10 season.

After Yi left the Nets, he spent two more seasons in the NBA with the Washington Wizards and the Dallas Mavericks. His production heavily declined each year, dropping from his season-best on the Nets of 12 points per game to 5.6, then 2.6.

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Despite his lackluster career in the NBA, Yi has multiple accomplishments overseas. As a member of the Guangdong Southern Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), Yi is a two-time Finals Most Valuable Player, eight-time CBA All-Star, and four-time CBA champion. These accolades are not to be overlooked, especially when paired with his outstanding performance in the Rio Olympics. Although China posted no wins in Rio, Yi had an impressive showing, tallying 20.4 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.

It isn’t difficult to understand why the Lakers are interested in Yi. The Lakers, like the Nets, are in a brutal rebuilding phase, and could use all the help they can get. Signing Yi to just the veteran’s minimum is a low-risk, high-reward deal. With Yi on the team, the Lakers will be able to maintain international interest, even if they’re expected to finish towards the bottom of the league. It isn’t clear how Yi will fit into the rotations, but the Lakers aren’t gambling much by bringing him in.

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If Yi performs above expectations, that’s great news for the Lakers. If he doesn’t, it won’t hurt the Lakers’ bottom line nor the team’s expectations for 2016-17.