NBA season 2016-17

Chinese basketballer Yi Jianlian’s NBA comeback over before it begins as he quits LA Lakers on eve of new season

The 2.13m forward requested to be released after realising he would be on the bench

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 October, 2016, 11:05am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 October, 2016, 11:06am

Chinese basketballer Yi Jianlian is looking for a new team – just one day before the new NBA season begins.

He looks set to return to China after leaving the Los Angeles Lakers.

The official line is that Yi requested he be released after realising he wouldn’t have a prominent role immediately.

However, many were speculating that it was a face-saving move with the team looking likely to cut him after a poor pre-season.

Yi returned to the NBA last month after a four-year absence, agreeing to a contract that was heavily performance-weighted with the Lakers, who are coming off the worst season in their history.

The 2.13m power forward was the sixth overall pick in the 2007 draft before returning to China in 2012, becoming the domestic league’s dominant player.

He averaged 3.0 points and 2.5 rebounds during the preseason.

“I think he wanted a bigger role, bigger minutes than we had available,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said.

“He was really going to have to outplay everybody to get big minutes because of the players we need to develop, and he did a great job.

“He was great while he was here. He proved that he belongs in this league.”

But it seems likely that Yi will now return to Guangdong Southern Tigers.

And there will not be any Chinese players in the NBA this season.

Zhou Qi and Wang Zhelin were both picked in the last draft by the Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies respectively, but neither made the starting rosters for the coming season.

Additional reporting: Associated Press