The Los Angeles Lakers signed Chinese star Yi Jianlian this summer to an interesting contract that incrementally increases based on games played, and could be worth as much as $8 million on the top end. Yi’s contract is partially non-guaranteed, which means that the team can waive him at any time and save on salary, or perhaps more likely, use the deal as a trade chip with a club looking to clear space on their books.
However, first Yi must make the final roster. Per NBA rules, the Lakers can carry a maximum of 15 players on their roster, and as of this writing, they have 14 guaranteed deals already inked. That means that Yi, Metta World Peace, Julian Jacobs, Thomas Robinson, Zach Auguste, and Travis Wear are all competing for the last spot on the team.
Heading into the preseason it appeared that Yi had the upper hand, with both his status as a star in a huge Chinese market and his very tradeable contract helping his cause. Now, word has broken that Yi will star in an NBA-themed advertising campaign for ExxonMobil in China, which could be a strong indication that he will indeed be part of the Lakers final 15 (via bizjournal.com):
ExxonMobil is developing NBA-themed creative for use in China that will feature Yi Jianlian of the Los Angeles Lakers. The planned activation follows the company this week signing a multiyear sponsorship with the NBA, making its Mobil 1 brand of synthetic motor oil the NBA, WNBA, and the D-League’s official motor oil, motor fuel and lubricant. The deal includes NBA rights in China, where activation — including in-arena promos and customer hospitality — will begin at next week’s Houston Rockets-New Orleans Pelicans preseason games in Shanghai and Beijing. The creative featuring the new Lakers forward, whom the team signed in August, is part of the same effort.
It would seem extremely unlikely that the NBA would allow an entire campaign to be based around Yi if the Lakers had any inclination to cut him. Obviously nothing is guaranteed, but this report could be a near-confirmation that he will be in a Lakers uniform this season.
Of course, contract and advertising campaign aside, Yi could very well make the Lakers roster on his own merit. He didn’t stick in the NBA during his first go-round after being drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2007, but since then he has bulked up considerably.
This, combined with the evolving style of play in the NBA, should allow him to slide over to center and provide Lakers coach Luke Walton with a floor spacing option.