While the Milwaukee Bucks were scheduling NBA workouts, most players who figured to be selected in the top 10 worked out for the Bucks, except two: Chinese phenom Yi Jianlian and Gator Joakim Noah. Yet, despite that, Bucks General Manger Larry Harris grabbed Yi. Larry, I know you’re trying to do what’s best for the organization but please, spare yourself the embarrassment. Yi Jianlian, while he might be a great player, doesn’t even want to play here. You need to be 100 percent positive that you can get a deal done with Yi before you draft him. If Yi holds out and doesn’t play, this will be a monumental mistake for the Bucks’ organization. This team has been underachieving for a number of years now, for the amount of money dished out, so when you get a lottery selection, you need to get a sure player. It was a vitally important pick for the Bucks and I feel Yi’s selection was risky. Yi’s agents said they wanted Yi to be drafted by a city with a heavy Asian population. Those potential cites included Chicago and anywhere in the Bay Area. Days before the draft, whispers around the league said that Golden State was offering Milwaukee guard Jason Richardson and their 18th pick for number 6. If that trade happened, Golden State would have taken Yi to fulfill his wishes. Instead, Harris spurned all offers including a deal with Philadelphia, for the 76ers’ 12th and 21st picks in the first round.
“We had a lot of discussions with Philadelphia as well as other discussions, but at the end of the day we felt that instead of moving back and doing some other things, this was the best decision for us,” said Harris.
Before the draft, Harris predicted the top five, and clued the fans at the Bradley Center that he and his staff had narrowed their focus to four players: Florida’s Al Horford, Ohio State’s Mike Conley Jr., Georgetown’s Jeff Green, and Yi. But perhaps what was even more insightful was Harris’ quote referring to who they’d get: “I can’t guarantee he’ll speak English or not, but I promise we’ll get the best player on the board.”
And amazingly, the first five picks rattled off just as Harris had projected, leaving the Chinese born Yi, the last of the four, a sure Buck.
“I can tell you from a skills standpoint, Yi has as much talent as anyone in the draft,” said Harris. “He’s a guy that can pass and shoot, dribble as a legitimate power forward that can not only score inside, but can really shoot the ball outside.”
Yi has stated that his No. 1 priority is playing for his Chinese national team. So even after all the summer leagues, Bucks fans will still be awaiting Yi’s first appearance in Milwaukee. The upside of Yi includes the comparisons to Yao Ming, his fellow countryman, who inspired him to come to the NBA. At 7-0′ and 245 pounds, Yi certainly has the size that the Bucks need, and the shooting skills that could make him a unique big man. But if he doesn’t want to play here none of it matters, and Harris will have made a very expensive error.