According to a report by ESPN's Marc Stein, the Los Angeles Lakers have been having serious talks to bring in China's Yi Jianlian.
The report also contends that the Lakers attempted to land the 7-footer a summer earlier but ultimately failed. Jianlian entered the NBA as the no. 6 overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft. After bouncing around from Milwaukee to New Jersey to Washington and even Dallas, tall forward joined the Guangdong Southern Tigers, where he has spent the last four season.
When China played Team USA in a pre-Olympics exhibition at Staples Center on July 24, Lakers coach Luke Walton, general manager Mitch Kupchak and the purple and gold brain trust assembled at the arena to watch the contest.
Jianlin led Chin with 18 points and seven assists in the lopsided defeat. After arriving at the Olympics, the 28-year-old has continued to impress, averaging 20.4 points and 6.6 rebounds for China over five games in Rio de Janeiro.
While the move may be motivated by basketball reasons, one cannot possibly ignore the marketing impact signing a Chinese basketball star would have with the Lakers. Previously, the Lakers drafted Sun Yue in 2007, though the forward never quite found his footing and returned to China after only appearing in the 2008-09 season.
Also, the team featured Taiwanese-American Jeremy Lin, who has a massive following in China, during the 2014-15 season. Lin remained one of the most popular Lakers thanks to a great deal of support in the domestic Asian-American community despite a forgettable, lackluster single season with the Lakers.
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With Kobe Bryant retired, a move for Jianlian would go a long way to holding onto the Lakers' fanbase in the highly populated Asian country. Bryant's popularity in China is a bit mind-blowing, as even a simple walk through the airport would generate hysterics and create scenes reminiscent of the Beatles during the 1960s.
For a Lakers team that is expected to struggle and finish near the bottom of the Western Conference, maintaining international interest and selling jerseys in China cannot be overlooked as a factor in attempting to sign the two-time Chinese Basketball Association Most Valuable Player, eight time CBA All-Star and four-time CBA champion.
Where exactly Jianlian would fit into the Lakers' roster remains to be seen, but the signing won't exactly hurt the team's 2016-17 expectations, nor would it hurt the Lakers' bottom line.