Washington Wizards trade for Yi Jianlian to bulk up front court

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 30, 2010; D01

The Washington Wizards took another step toward assembling one of the NBA's more eclectic collection of front-court players Tuesday as they made a trade with New Jersey to acquire a 7-foot small forward from China on the same day they introduced an undersized power forward from South Carolina and a shot-blocking center from Senegal.

Five days after completing a draft-day trade with Minnesota to get Clemson forward Trevor Booker and Rutgers center Hamady N'Diaye, the Wizards formally welcomed them, albeit without the pageantry that accompanied the arrival of No. 1 overall pick John Wall last Friday. Two hours later, the team announced a deal for Yi Jianlian, a versatile but unpolished 22-year-old forward who has only showed flashes of his potential in the past three seasons in Milwaukee and New Jersey.

The Wizards sent swingman Quinton Ross to the Nets.

"It's the Great Wall of Chinatown," Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said, before being informed that the team's top draft pick already has assumed that nickname.

The addition of Yi does open up opportunities in China for the Wizards.

"I don't think we're concerned about the marketing aspect," Grunfeld said. "I think we're much more concerned with the player that we're getting. [Yi] may not have found the right situation, but he's put up some good numbers and he's had some good experience. Our plan all along is to get young players, build with the draft, and this fits into our plan."

Yi, the sixth pick of the 2007 draft, averaged a career-high 12 points and 7.2 rebounds last season for the 12-win Nets, who made the deal to get further under the salary cap in an effort to acquire a marquee free agent. This year's free agency class includes LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Amare Stoudemire.

Teams can begin negotiating with free agents on Thursday and the Nets reportedly have the first interview lined up with James.

This is the second time in less than a week that the Wizards have accommodated teams in pursuit of more salary cap room. The Wizards agreed to take guard Kirk Hinrich and the 17th pick, which turned out to be French big man Kevin Seraphin, in a draft-day deal with Chicago. The trade for Hinrich -- which won't be finalized until the moratorium on trades and free agent signings ends on July 8 -- absorbed nearly $9 million of the Wizards' salary cap space.

Yi earns nearly $4.5 million next season. Ross is owed nearly $1.2 million, but the Nets also gave the Wizards $3 million to take Yi. The Bulls also agreed to pay the Wizards $3 million in the deal for Hinrich and Seraphin.

"I think we're concerned about our own situation," Grunfeld said, when asked about facilitating deals to help other teams sign players.

The Wizards are not allowed to comment on Seraphin, a rugged, 6-9 forward from French Guiana who has been compared to Nuggets center Nené Hilario, until the trade becomes official.

Booker and N'Diaye are two players expected to change the perception of the Wizards from a soft, offensively centered team.

When the Wizards interviewed draft prospects that played in the ACC or against Clemson, only one name consistently came up as the toughest player to score against: Booker. Booker is the only player in ACC history with 1,500 points, 1,000 rebounds, 200 blocks, 200 assists and 100 steals.

Fearing that they would not be able to get him, the Wizards had to surrender the 30th and 35th picks to move up and take Booker. The 6-7 Booker was the first senior taken in the draft after graduating from Clemson with a degree in commercial recreation, sport and camp management.

"I love defense. If an offensive player tries to challenge me with the ball, I'm not going to back down from anybody," said Booker, who compared himself to other undersized forwards Paul Millsap of Utah and Carl Landry of Sacramento. "It's a big challenge for me. I don't want anybody to score on me or score on my team. I'm going to do anything I can to keep the ball from going in the hole."

When asked what he would tell people who doubt his ability to succeed at power forward at his height, Booker said, "I just got to prove them wrong."

N'Diaye, 23, has only been playing basketball for six years after leaving his native Senegal at age 16. Taken with the 56th pick, N'Diaye was the Big East defensive player of the year, leading the conference in blocked shots. He showed his skills for blocking shots while working out for the Wizards, but frustrated Coach Flip Saunders with his propensity to slap shots out of bounds.

"I said, 'H, what good are you doing blocking a shot and sending it out of bounds?' Saunders said. "He looks at me and said, "Coach, the crowd goes crazy.' "

"I've got a long way to go," N'Diaye said. "Six years of basketball, doesn't mean this is my best. Hopefully, Coach Flip will teach me how to keep the ball inbounds."

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