Remember back in the summer of 2013 when the Lakers took gambles on former first round picks to see if those guys could revive their careers in Los Angeles? Kobe had just torn his achilles and Dwight Howard had just walked without compensation so the team turned to guys who were called busts or never quite lived up to their draft slot — Wes Johnson, Xavier Henry, MarShon Brooks, Kendall Marshall — as low risk high reward signings.
That summer and those signings instantly popped into my head when I read Marc Stein’s report the Lakers are in “advanced talks” to bring former lottery pick Yi Jianlian back to the NBA from China. Here’s Stein:
Sources told ESPN.com that the Lakers tried in the summer of 2015 to sign Yi and have renewed those efforts in the wake of the former lottery pick’s fourth trip to the Summer Olympics as a cornerstone player for China.
The 7-footer, now 28, has spent the past four seasons with the Guangdong Southern Tigers in the Chinese Basketball Association and averaged 20.4 points and 6.6 rebounds for China in its five games in Rio.
A deal is not yet done to secure Yi’s return to the NBA, but sources say talks are ongoing and that the Lakers are hopeful of adding him to the roster before training camp begins in late September.
First off, Yi can play some. He really can. He’s not an especially efficient player, but the talent which got him to the NBA initially is still there. He has a nice shooting stroke, can rebound some, and has some physical tools which can (but don’t as much as anyone would like) translate to solid defense. So, in some ways, I applaud the Lakers to continue to seek out talent and get creative in trying to upgrade their roster.
In saying that, I cannot tell you where, exactly, Yi fits with this group. Oh, I get that he’s a pure stretch PF who can play some pick and pop and space the floor in the opposite corner as a shooter who draws a big away from the basket. But, where would he get minutes? Who does he play over? We just talked about how the Lakers are going to have position battles which are likely to lead to a minutes crunch, and that is especially true in the front court.
Any minutes Yi gets would likely come at the expense of Julius Randle, Larry Nance, Luol Deng, or Brandon Ingram — the latter two of which would be small-ball PF’s who would provide the exact type of skill set you hope to get from Yi. Don’t get me wrong, the more talent the better, but in the end there are only so many minutes and I’m thinking the guys who are already in-house are the priority.
Again, that doesn’t mean having Yi in the fold would be a terrible idea — especially at a low salary figure — but if he’s seeing the floor at all it’s probably because the options which really need to be prioritized aren’t working. That would be much more problematic than having him around as insurance for injury or poor play would be, for sure.
Of course, Yi isn’t yet signed and it still may not even happen. But, if it does, I don’t see this as much more than another attempt to grab at a talent who didn’t pan out before in hopes that he still might, but this time on a roster which has other legitimate options whose development is still a top priority. Which, ultimately, would only leave me scratching my head at why this other gamble is even worth attempting.