After a Marc Stein report Tuesday evening stated the Lakers and former lottery pick Yi Jianlian were in advanced talks, there are now reports coming out of China that the deal is done. Our thoughts on how Jianlian fits on the Lakers haven’t really changed — the skill set is solid and a role could be carved out, but that likely comes at the expense of young players the Lakers should be more focused.
But it seems a new wrinkle may impact how this signing could be viewed. Namely, what Yi will be paid. It was originally thought a minimum contract would be agreed upon. As Eric Pincus notes, for a player with 5 years NBA experience, that amount would be roughly $1.14 million. However, back in 2015, Yi signed a contract extension with the Guangdong Tigers which would pay him roughly $3.2 million a season for 5 seasons.
It would seem strange, then, that he would come back to the states to make roughly one-third that amount, even if it did mean playing in the best league in the world. I mean, why would anyone do that? Well, it seems like they wouldn’t. I bet they would for over double that amount, though:
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.
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) August 17, 2016
Yeah, one year, $8 million would probably do it.
If you want to try to rationalize this deal, it is pretty easy to point out that a). the Lakers have the money to spend, b). have an open roster spot, and c). could always try to leverage this one year deal later by trading Yi when he becomes eligible in mid December. That last point is probably the most important here since he would be making enough money to serve as real salary ballast in a larger trade where matching dollars becomes a necessity due to CBA rules.
Still, though, that feels a lot like giving the Lakers the benefit of the doubt here. Smart teams do see the value in contracts like this and do use foresight by envisioning the ability to use them in future trades. However, the real reason to sign a player should always be about what he can provide on the court and how he fits into the larger picture of roster development and winning games.
As I have written, Yi can play. As a traditional stretch PF or even a “small-ball” C — as much as you can say small when he’s a legit seven footer — Yi has value as a floor spacer/shooter who can open up the offense. Looking at the type system Luke Walton is likely to install, it’s easy to see the symmetry. Yi could slide right into the Mo’ Speights role of a reserve big who comes into games to impact the offense. He doesn’t need to be an every game option, but having that tool in the bag is useful and provides options. And, it should be repeated again, when building a team, adding more talent is never bad.
But things are never so straight forward. Not to repeat myself, but even in the best case scenario where competition sorts itself out and players naturally fall into the roles and minute allocations which best suit them, adding another player who wants to play — no, who likely needs to play — to a roster where you already have somewhat of a logjam of quality players who need development is tricky. I think coaches always want more talent, but when managing that talent creates scenarios where interests of all involved are put in direct competition, you start to create problems for yourself.
And, again, the Lakers may not be “stacked” at PF/C, but they have 1st round picks from recent drafts who are PF’s, just signed a guy to a $64 million deal to play C, drafted a player in the 2nd round who you had rated #16 on your board as another C, and resigned one of your back-up bigs to a deal in the $6 million range. That’s 5 players at the 4/5 spots and I haven’t even mentioned Luol Deng or Brandon Ingram.
So, yeah, it’s one thing to want more talent. It’s quite another to actually get it and then have the integration of it all go smoothly. I am not saying Luke Walton isn’t up for that job — it is his job to handle these things and one of his strengths seems to be relating to players and generating buy-in. But in the balance of adding talent and how adding that talent can actually impact roster dynamics, this move feels a bit like it’s tipping in the wrong direction.
Of course, that’s just me speculating in the middle of August. But this will bear watching and I am interested in how it plays out.