China’s Yi Jianlian is considered one of the worst draft busts in NBA history. But after a stellar performance at the 2016 Rio Games the seven-foot forward could be on the verge of a comeback with the Los Angeles Lakers. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Lakers are “in discussions” to sign Yi but no deal has been reached.
Yi, who was selected by the Milwaukee Bucks sixth overall in the 2007 NBA Draft but was traded to the then New Jersey Nets a year later, was labeled a huge bust after averaging 7.9 points and 4.9 rebounds on 40.4 percent shooting over five NBA seasons. In the weeks leading up to the draft and well after his NBA career was over, critics often panned a workout video that showed Yi posting up a chair.
However, after rejoining the Guangdong Southern Tigers in 2012, the 28-year-old has become a dynamic scorer and last averaged 27.7 points per game during the 2014-15 Chinese Basketball Association season.
And in the Olympics, despite China’s elimination and poor 0-5 record in group play, Yi turned heads with 20.4 points and 6.6 rebounds while shooting 46 percent from three-point range.
Technically, this may not be the Lakers first attempt to lure Yi back to the NBA. In August 2015 one of China’s top-selling newspapers reported L.A. had reached out to Yi but he turned down the overture because the offer was too low.
Currently in the middle of a major rebuild and ushering away from the era of All-Star shooting guard Kobe Bryant, the Lakers do have some wiggle room to take chances on a player who may still have high upside or could provide much-needed scoring. The Lakers were last in the NBA with 97.3 points per game and in three-point shooting at 31.7 percent in the 2015-16 season.
How much the Lakers can offer Yi in order to lure him out of China a second time will still be a factor. According to Spotrac, L.A. has about $436,000 in salary cap space but more than $19.5 million in luxury tax space thanks to the recently inflated cap and the NBA’s new television rights deal.
Given his scoring touch but his history of poor rebounding and lack of toughness on the defensive end, Yi would likely play small forward or shooting guard for the Lakers. But new head coach Luke Walton already has four small forwards to choose from and the Lakers just signed veteran Luol Deng to a four-year $72 million contract after selecting lithe forward Brandon Ingram with the No. 2 overall pick in June’s draft.