Bucks Diary

Friday, June 29, 2007

Memo to Larry Harris: an analysis of Yi's actual options

Stories are circulating suggesting that if the Bucks do not accomodate Yi and trade him to a large market team as his agent has demanded, then Yi has some unique options he will exercise that will make it painless for him to extinguish the Bucks draft rights. It is said, for instance, that he can simply refuse to sign with the Bucks, return to China for a year, resume play with his old team, and then reenter the NBA draft as soon as the Bucks rights burn out.

I hope Larry Harris understands that is an empty threat that will not work under the NBA's collective bargaining agreement. Yi cannot simply return to play in China and still expect to extinguish the Bucks rights to him. If Yi plays in China, it will actually have the effect of extending the Bucks rights to him (I will explain why below). The important thing to understand is that Yi holds no unique leverage over the Milwaukee Bucks. Not by virtue of his unique status as a Chinese athlete, nor his status as a citizen of China, nor for any other reason Don Fegan can cook up. The fact is Yi stands in the exact same place as every other impetuous player who has ever tried to circumvent the NBA draft. And if Larry Harris stays strong, Yi will lose.

Here's the basic "signing period" rule that governs every NBA draftee: a team holds the exclusive rights to sign a player it drafted in the period between the date of the draft and the date of the next draft. If it fails to sign the player during that period it loses that player's rights and he may reenter the subsequent draft. Normally, extinguishing a drafting team's rights is a painful and expensive process for a player to go through, and they are therefore discouraged from doing so.

Yi's agent claims he's different. He is claiming Yi can simply go back to China and wait that year out by temporarily resuming his Chinese career. It won't work. I have discovered a clause in the CBA that makes the "signing period" rule contingent upon the player remaining, essentially, inactive for the entire year between the drafts. If the player decides instead to play for a non-NBA team, as Yi would be doing by resuming his Chinese career, then the rights held by the NBA team that drafted him are extended to a period of 12 months following the time the player's contractual obligation to the non-NBA team runs out. Thus, playing in China would not help Yi, it would just extend the Bucks hold on him. So, clearly, he holds no special "Return to China" leverage in his negotiations with the Bucks. That's a complete myth.

I have also seen it suggested that because Yi is somehow still contractually obligated to his old Chinese team, Don Fegan is planning to use that obligation to apply an additional source of pressure on the Bucks. Here's how it would allegedly work. If the Bucks don't succumb to his demands, then Yi's Chinese team, in cooperation with Fegan, will simply refuse to release him and thus will prevent him from playing in the NBA. This is tacticly and logically flawed. The consequences of such an action would be more detrimental to Yi than the Bucks.

And anyway, it wouldn't work. By my reading of Section 5 of the CBA, entitled "Effect of Contracts with other Professional Teams", if Yi's Chinese team does in fact still hold contractual rights to Yi, and if they should indeed refuse to release him from those rights then that refusal would, again, simply serve to extend the Bucks exclusive signing period. In that case the Bucks would continue to hold Yi's exclusive rights so long as the Chinese contract remains in effect plus the standard 12 month "signing period". So, as you can see, this "Yi's team won't release him" threat is another bit of puffery.

The simple truth is that in order to earn his release from being the Bucks exclusive property, Yi has to sacrifice a year of his professional basketball life. And since that is, by design, a huge sacrifice to make in the limited life of an elite athlete, it is something that, to my knowledge, no modern player has ever been willing to do. As such, the Bucks hold all the leverage in this negotiated game of chicken. And if they hold fast and don't waver, its likely they will prevail.


At June 30, 2007 at 9:56 AM, Anonymous paulpressey25 said...

This is a good post. Larry doesn't hold all aces but he's got a number of kings and queens in his hand.

We are starting to see the "Yi's going to Milwaukee !?!?#$" hysteria dying down already....it doesn't appear to have legs nationally. If a few big names change teams in free agency or trade the next two weeks, the "Yi" situation becomes a footnote.

And guess what Dan Fegan....Yi loses a lot of the PR you've built up for him the last three-months here in America....Oh, the endorsement money will still be there....but it won't be near as much if your client is holding out and threatening to maybe never playing in the NBA.

Fegan can turn this into a positive in the next week, come to Milwaukee, say Yi likes it here and then score some big endorsements......or he can hold out the next 3-4 months and become Steve Francis, who never really recovered from his holdout....

At June 30, 2007 at 11:42 AM, Blogger Blogmaster said...

I may have my disagreements with Larry Harris, but he's forever earned my respect by basically saying "Hey Fegan, fuck you!" when he selected Yi. I love that.


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