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.
LT Mitchell says
Assuming the price is low and not more than 1 or 2 years, I like the signing.
Yi is a 7 footer. In Rio, he looked stronger and more muscular than the last time he was in the NBA. I think on this team, he would mostly play center. The Lakers currently have three traditional type centers who don’t shoot threes. I think Yi has a legit chance to earn some minutes as a change of pace center who can spread the floor.
He’s a low risk signing, and if he works out, the Lakers will have more assets to acquire their biggest position of need, a defensive guard.
I agree w/ LT Mitchell. Signing Yi would mean assigning him as a small-ball CE which means the expense likely comes from Mozgod. I really like Yi from way before. Many times I have advocated signing him due to his inside abilities and range.
Don’t get me wrong, he’s no defensive stalwart. But on offense, on spot minutes, he could be very useful. For a little over the minimum, no risk move here.
I’m not sure why the Lakers would be looking to sign another big man at this point, but if we’re talking about reclamation projects, why not bring in Lance Stephenson? It was only a couple years ago that Lance was battling LeBron in the Eastern Conference Finals. I guess everyone’s biggest concern with Lance is his chemistry issues as a guy who needs the ball in his hands, but he fills a major need for the Lakers as a tough perimeter defender.
If we are expecting Luke Walton to be the next great coach in this league, I would think we can trust him to figure out a way to get Lance to buy into the system. I like to look at the Spurs and how Popovich helped turn a guy like Stephen Jackson into a champion. Getting Lance back into his 2013-14 form on a veteran min contract would be a big win for the Lakers.
Yi’s value to the Lakers will probably be bigger off court than on court, as in increasing Laker’s Asian audience locally and overseas. As for Lance, talented but probably a bad fit for this young non-contending team, where as a veteran he would probably try to do too much while also attempting to be a leader. I like Lance but feel he’ll fit better w/ the champion Cavs. LeBron would get the best out of him, while keeping him under control, similar to MJ & Rodman.
Please. Ya’ll want Nick Young off the team then want Lance Stephenson?
adamv37 I like Lance’s game when he’s focused, but I don’t think he is ever going to be what he was. Larry Bird built a really solid foundation for Lance to work within and he has had no success outside of it. The 8th grader is most likely to end up in China, maybe even on the team Yi looks set to vacate.
Regarding Stephenson — I always thought that the Kobe Lakers should have pursued him. Kobe, I believe, would have been able to get him focused to perform. You have to remember that Lance was almost an All-Star in his last year in Indiana: 14 pts 5 assists and 7 boards.
I’m not sure that he’s a fit on these Lakers with a new coach and a very young team. That’s a lot of pressure to put on Deng to be the mature leader in the locker room (yes, I think Deng is a good guy despite my doubts about his ability to contribute significantly on the floor).
Stephenson is a combo guard and we have a ton of those with DAR. Clarkson, Williams, Calderon and Huertas. The backcourt get’s especially crowded if you plan to play Ingram any minutes at the Two. A plus on Lance is that he’s a bigger guy (6’6″ and 230) and could play some minutes at the Three where Ingram may be too young and Deng may be too slow.
Marc Stein ESPN Senior Writer
Yi Jianlian update: ESPN sources say the Lakers are now in the midst of finalizing a one-year deal in the $8 million range w/the China star.
So much for the minimum deal. Anyways, 8M is sunk cost. We go over cap by signing Black and Ingram’s deals.
Wow – could have signed ezeli and instead pay that money to Yi …. David lee getting paid 1.6M, terrance jones min, Jordan Hill getting 4M, kris humphries 4M, jennings 5M, brandon rush 3.5M, nene 3m
If anything clippers made out like bandits this offseason – Felton, Speights, and Bass all on min contracts bolstering a non-existant bench …. but they still have no real SF on the roster
Also by signing him for 8M there will be an expectation that he will play- i’m guessing the speights role on GS but man we got a lot of money tied up in who we hope will be guys playing off of our bench
if anything we have a number of contracts to give up in any trade but wow
8 million? I guess he is a marketable. But still, 8 million for Yi?!? I just hope there is only 1 year guaranteed.
Small ball 5. Zu may lose out here in short term…
Well, I’ll say this about Jim Buss: he doesn’t hesitate to spend. The one year deal means we maintain flexibility for the future of course but I can’t see anything he adds for us in the present other than rather expensive insurance for someone else getting injured. In theory he can space the floor, but his highest eFG% in his five NBA seasons came all the way back in 08-09 at .430 which does not give a lot of confidence. His stats in China look better than that and our international scouts have been pretty good lately but this is still a head-scratcher.
It’s official: Yi is a Laker!