Until the NBA and its players’ union can come to a resolution on a new collective bargaining agreement, Yi Jianlian is returning to the place where his professional basketball career started.
Jarinn Akana, one of Yi’s representatives, confirmed that his client has signed a contract with the Guangdong Southern Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association which will have an NBA out for whenever the labor dispute is settled.
The CBA allowed its teams to sign only free agent NBA players, and Yi is an unrestricted free agent after the Wizards declined to extend his $5.4 million qualifying offer for next season. Wilson Chandler, J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin have all signed to play in China since the NBA decided to lock out its players on July 1, but the CBA does not allow foreign players to leave until the conclusion of the season.
Akana explained in a telephone interview that since Yi is a Chinese national, the CBA and the Southern Tigers have both afforded him the privilege of leaving whenever he signs another deal in the NBA.
Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker are both under contract with the Wizards but signed with teams in Spain and Israel, respectively, during the lockout. The CBA begins in November, so Yi had was pressed to make a decision about playing or training on his own.
“Yi looked at the lockout situation and wanted to be on the right side of the fence. If something came down, and they made an agreement he could come back and if not, he’s on that side that he can play,” Akana said. “It was just a matter of looking at the situation and figuring out if it made sense to play.”
Yi averaged career lows of 5.6 points and 3.9 rebounds in 63 games with the Wizards last season. He was limited for most of the season because of a hyperextended right knee, and shifted in and out of Coach Flip Saunders’s rotation when healthy. But he led China into the London Olympics with an impressive outing last month at the FIBA Asian Basketball Championship, winning tournament most valuable player honors as he averaged 16.6 points and 10.8 rebounds.
Akana felt that it was best for Yi to continue his progress by playing in a familiar competitive environment, rather than work out in America until the lockout ends. “Yi is still improving and working on his game. Of course, like all young players, you need to keep playing to develop. If not, you lose that development time,” he said. “All players know, sitting idle doesn’t help.”
Yi is a native of Heshin, Guangdong, and played for the Southern Tigers from 2002-2007, reaching four CBA all-star teams and winning four consecutive championships before the Milwaukee Bucks selected him sixth overall. In four seasons with Milwaukee, New Jersey and the Wizards, Yi averages 8.6 points and 5.3 rebounds.
“Although he may not stay with us very long, I am quite sure his return is good for himself, the team and Chinese fans as well, “ Guangdong Hongyuan’s team manager Liu Hongjiang told the Chinese news agency, Xinhua. “He could keep his edge in CBA, our team will also benefit from his skills and fans certainly want to see him play at his best years.”