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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Guaranteed Minutes for Yi? Only if his Contract is Entirely Performance Based

ESPN's Ric Bucher reports that Milwaukee owner Herb Kohl guaranteed Yi Jianlian that he would play at least 20 minutes per game next season and perhaps as much as 25 minutes per game. Bucher adds that a source close to the situation told him that if Yi does not receive the promised playing time that he can go to Kohl and request that the Bucks trade him to a different team. NBA contracts are fully guaranteed regardless of injuries or performance, so if I were Kohl and Yi came to me with this demand I would be tempted to say, "OK. We'll guarantee your minutes but if you don't reach certain performance benchmarks--say 14 ppg and seven rpg in those 25 mpg--then your salary will be decreased accordingly. We'll guarantee your money or your minutes but not both." Granted, the Players Association would shoot down that idea in about a nanosecond but if the Bucks are really doing what Bucher says then this is a mistake on many levels.

In theory, Yi and the Chinese national team want to ensure that Yi gets enough training while he is in the NBA to help him perform better for China in international competitions--but guaranteeing his minutes regardless of his performance could very well lead Yi to be complacent and not work hard enough to reach whatever his maximum potential is. If Yi's minutes are assured then what incentive does he have to push himself? Yi is going to learn a lot just by practicing against the big men on his own team and if he earns time on the court during games then that is great. Think about the impact that this will have on Yi's relationship with his teammates. He is already facing huge culture shock as he adjusts not only to the NBA game but to living in a foreign country. Now he has to face an additional barrier that separates him from the rest of the team because he is (allegedly) receiving preferential treatment. Yi's teammates--and his opponents--may very well decide to give Yi their own version of "preferential" treatment. Also, Bucks Coach Larry Krystkowiak is now in a completely untenable position. How can he possibly lead his team effectively if he does not control his players' minutes, which is the only carrot/stick that coaches have considering the massive amounts of guaranteed money that NBA players make?

If Bucher is wrong about this then Kohl and the Bucks better get in front of this story in a hurry. Otherwise, unless Yi shocks the world by being very, very good right off the bat, it is going to be a long and frustrating season in Milwaukee.

posted by David Friedman @ 4:33 PM

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