BEIJING – All is back to normal in Chinese professional basketball.
Yi Jianlian is a champion again, yet he can’t get a sniff from the NBA – even after dominating throughout the season for the Guangdong Southern Tigers, who won the CBA championship by sweeping all three playoff rounds.
Could Yi, who can now safely be called an NBA washout, be a replacement piece that could help one of several injury-riddled NBA teams in the playoffs?
The answer that Yi’s camp has been getting is a consistent ‘No.’
But playoffs rosters do not have to be set until after the regular season ends, and a player can be playoff-eligible if he did not play for a different NBA team during the season — or if he was waived prior to March 1.
And heck, if the Memphis Grizzlies can sign Keyon Dooling (who was working as an assistant coach for the Celtics a couple weeks ago) to be their emergency backup point guard, why wouldn’t some playoff outlier take a flyer on the best player China has produced aside from Yao Ming?
The Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder don’t need Yi. They are pretty much set and going forward with what they have. Even the Los Angeles Lakers – who are on the outside looking in right now and appear to need all the help they can get – wouldn’t need Yi because they have a similar player in Earl Clark.
But Yi could be the Chinese edition of Earl Clark for a handful of playoff teams. A few specifically come to mind:
Denver Nuggets. They just lost Danilo Gallinari to a torn ACL. Is Corey Brewer going to be an adequate replacement for the entire playoffs? Is Anthony Randolph a better 15th man than Yi would be?
Boston Celtics. They just got back Kevin Garnett after a six-game absence, they’ve already brought in two Chinese League imports (Shavlik Randolph and Terrence Williams), and they are getting nothing from D.J. White. Danny Ainge has always been a big fan of Yi’s, but the word out of Boston is that Doc Rivers would be resistant to such a move.
New York Knicks. Who are they fooling with their reverence for Rasheed Wallace, who underwent season-ending foot surgery? They need that guy to wave a towel? Or James White to do the same thing? They won’t have Amar’e Stoudemire until the second round at the earliest, and maybe even longer.
Indiana Pacers. The offense occasionally looks poorly spaced, a byproduct of Danny Granger’s absence and a lack of bigs who can play at the arc. Unfortunately, the Pacers don’t have a roster spot, either. So they would have to cruelly cut someone who has been with the club since training camp, like Sam Young, Jeff Pendergraph or Ben Hansbrough.
Golden State Warriors. This might actually be the best fit for Yi, who is comfortable playing in an uptempo system and could be an insurance policy in case David Lee, Andrew Bogut or Carl Landry – none of whom plays at the arc – is sidelined. They recently signed Scott Machado as an emergency point guard, and they are carrying only 14 players on the roster. There would be ZERO risk in bringing in Yi as an emergency backup.
Did you know Yi led all players in rebounding at the London Olympics with 10.2 per game? (BTW, Patty Mills of the Spurs led all scorers, averaging 21.2 ppg, and Pablo Prigioni of the Knicks led the tournament in assists with 6.6. Both will get some burn in the postseason.)
Did you know Yi went for 30 and 12 against Spain in China’s opener, when he was defended by the Gasol brothers and Serge Ibaka?
These are points worth making and questions worth asking after Yi took his Olympic dominance to China, a league that gets more competitive with increased American influx each season. He averaged 24.6 points, and 10.5 rebounds while shooting 58 percent from the field for the Southern Tigers, who went 28-4 during the regular season (with Ike Diogu and Terrence Williams as their American imports) and 13-0 in the playoffs for the club’s eighth championship in the last 10 years.
Yi was MVP of the regular season, the CBA finals and the All-Star Game.
If you don’t think he can help some team, a brief history lesson (and trivia quiz) is in order:
During Game 7 of the 2008 NBA Finals, why was Brian Scalabrine on the court for the Boston Celtics against the Los Angeles Lakers?
The answer is because the Celtics decided to put two players on their playoff roster who were no more than summer camp invitees – Oliver Lafayette and Tony Gaffney. And when injuries to key players, most notably Wallace, tested their depth, they had none aside from Scalabrine.
Back in the days when NBA playoff rosters were limited to 12 and had to be set before the playofs, it was a different story.
But the rules have changed, and each team now can have 15 players on the roster and designate two as inactive for each game.