Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Yi Watch: Day 27

As usual, no real news on the Yi front, but the Journal-Sentinel staff has plenty to say. Charles Gardner reports the Bucks optimistically continue to hold firm while the Yi camp isn't saying much. Meanwhile, Don Walker reports some Milwaukee businessmen with ties to China are recommending the Bucks send a contingent to China to negotiate with Yi's club team, the Guangdong Tigers. Bob Wolfley has also chimed in with a very good article outlining the major talking points. The Gardner article also offers a little more insight into the nature of Yi's arrangement with Guangdong.

"I believe he (Yi) will be in a Bucks uniform," Harris said in comments made during a news conference to introduce new Bucks small forward Desmond Mason, who was signed to a two-year contract. "We haven't found one player yet that has not enjoyed Milwaukee once they got here.

"We've had tremendous support from the community, civic leaders, the Chinese community. It's almost like Milwaukee has taken the stance, 'Give us a shot, and you won't regret it.'"

According to collective bargaining rules governing the National Basketball Association, the Bucks can pay up to $500,000 to secure the release of Yi from his Chinese Basketball Association team, the Guangdong Tigers. The Bucks could pay less than that amount but not more, and the NBA as an entity would not contribute to the release, a source said.

According to people who have knowledge of negotiations involving foreign players, Yi has to sign two agreements with the Tigers that are not part of his agreement with Los Angeles-based agent Dan Fegan.

The two agreements with the Tigers are: 1) a buyout of his player contract with the Tigers, perhaps with cash and maybe involving some value-added exchange, such as Yi appearing as a representative or spokesman for the company that owns the Tigers; and 2) a deal to assign his representation rights to a Tigers-owned agency, set up this year to represent all Tigers players.

The agreement could call for Yi to give his NBA representation to Fegan or whomever the Tigers prefer.

SLAM also has a short article on the Chinese perspective that reinforces the prevailing viewpoint that at the end of the day Yi doesn't appear to have much choice:

The first thing to get out of the way is this: no one in China really knows what is going in with Yi either.

“I really don’t understand why he dislikes Milwaukee so much,” says Shen Zhiyu, a senior writer for the Chinese language version of Slam. “It doesn’t make sense for him to demand to be somewhere or not be somewhere. No matter what team he’s on, it’s a very good chance for him to improve his level of play significantly. It’s a very good chance for him and for the Chinese National Team.”

This last point is really the key to understanding how people here view this situation: it helps the Chinese National Team to have as many of their players as possible playing against as high level competition as possible. People are particularly pumped about this because of the ’08 Beijing Olympics, kicking off in a little more than a year.

The only way for Yi to really avoid playing for the Bucks is to sit the year out and that is not a reasonable option; there is no way he can have no competition in the year before the Beijing Games, probably the most anticipated sports event in Chinese history.

One thing to clarify: the reason the owners of Yi’s CBA team keep speaking for him is they are his Chinese agents. Even now that he is (theoretically) going to the NBA, he is still basically controlled by his Chinese team.

It appears a Harris visit to China is being discussed in the Bucks camp, though they will first look to finish up their free agent signings. With Desmond Mason signing yesterday and Mo Williams' press conference today, restricted free agent Charlie Bell is the only unsigned Buck, so expect his contract talks to heat up over the next few days. Bell is seeking some longer-term security a la Charlotte's Matt Carroll (6 years, $27 million), but so far the Bucks appear to be waiting to see if a market develops for the 28-year old Bell's services.

While I think Bell can be a valuable bench contributor who can also start at both guard positions if needed, I'm personally not a big fan of giving role players long-term deals. Good GMs earn their money by finding cheap players who can contribute, like Harris did with Bell two years ago or Mo Williams three years ago. It's difficult to save money on your star players, so keeping your role players affordable is one way to keep payroll manageable. And unlike Mo, there's little to suggest Bell will ever be a starting-caliber player for the Bucks , especially given the amount invested in the two positions where Bell can play (I'm not a big fan of the 6'3" Bell playing SF). I could live with a deal offering Bell $3-4 million per season, but I'd prefer it be for three years rather than a five or six year deal that would keep Bell in Milwaukee until his early 30s. My guess is they agree on something in the neighborhood of four years, $15 million, for better or worse.

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