Yi Jianlian confident in return to NBA, but where does he play with Lakers?

Associated Press
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The Lakers — the organization, the players, everyone — is used to a media circus. It’s just part of the institution, from the Showtime era through the Kobe Bryant farewell tour.

So when more than 25 media members, national and international, show up for part of a Yi Jianlian workout in the offseason, it’s just another day at the office.

There was interest in Jianlian after he averaged 20.4 points per game in Rio as the focal point of the Chinese offense, he seemed a more mature player than the one who bounced around the NBA for five seasons after being taken by the Bucks at No. 6 in 2007. In his first stint in the NBA Jianlian never developed as hoped, but after four seasons playing in China he said he feels ready now, as reported by Baxter Holmes at ESPN.

He also said he felt that the Lakers were a “good opportunity” and that the “timing” was right for an NBA return.

“I think I played a lot of games in China, in Asia, Olympics,” said Yi, who joined the Lakers on a one-year deal worth about $8 million, according to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein. “It’s a lot of experience. For me I probably got stronger and more confidence.”

That one-year deal is about as Laker-friendly as it could get, and the $8 million figure would only kick in he played in 59 games with the team, meaning he was a regular part of the rotation.

It’s unclear if Jianlian would reach that in part because it’s unclear where he fits in with this roster.

Jianlian is a 7-foot power forward or center who can stretch the floor out to the three-point line (he shot 46.7 percent from the international arc in Rio). At the four, the Lakers will likely start Julius Randle or Larry Nance Jr., with rookie Brandon Ingram potentially getting some run there as the team tries to figure out exactly where he fits in Luke Walton’s system. At the five they are paying Timofey Mozgov to start and behind him there are Tarik Black and rookie Ivica Zubac. Maybe Jianlian can get some run as a small ball center. However, the Lakers should be focused on getting run for and developing their young players that are part of the future.

Luke Walton has a lot of frontcourt puzzle pieces to fit together, a lot of them younger players than the 28-year-old Jianlian, and it’s unclear what the picture will look like in the end.

But there is a lot of buzz about Jianlian and the chance he is getting.