Milwaukee It's a perception that won't go away and is plaguing the Milwaukee Bucks in their efforts to sign first-round draft pick Yi Jianlian.
Chen Haitao, the owner of the Guangdong Tigers, expressed it in comments to the Chinese press on Tuesday, when he cited lack of playing opportunity as the primary reason for Chinese officials' reluctance to allow Yi to sign with the Bucks.
"This is not - as media reports have said - because Milwaukee, as a city with very few Chinese people, is not good for Yi's commercial development," Chen said. "Rather we want to find a team suitable for Yi's growth. That's the root of the problem."
But later Chinese media reports quoted another club official, Guangdong vice chairman Liu Hong Xinjiang, as disputing those comments and saying Yi could eventually wear a Bucks uniform.
It was another confusing day in the ongoing Yi saga, as several reports surfaced regarding the intentions of the Guangdong Tigers star.
Chen was quoted in Tuesday's Beijing News as saying Yi would "definitely not" play for the Bucks next season.
Chen said he was concerned that that the 7-foot Chinese national team player would have trouble getting into the lineup with the Bucks.
Yi plays as a power forward, a spot where the Bucks struggled with injuries last season and at times had undersized Ruben Patterson playing the position.
Returning at power forward is 6-11 Charlie Villanueva, who is coming off surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Seven-footer Andrew Bogut, the top pick in the 2005 NBA draft, is now firmly entrenched at the center position and plays a much different game than Yi, who is more perimeter-oriented and often faces the basket.
Bucks general manager Larry Harris would not comment directly on Tuesday but indicated Bogut, Villanueva and Yi are versatile players and could be on the floor at the same time.
Harris and coach Larry Krystkowiak met with Yi in Las Vegas earlier this month and tried to assure him he would get plenty of chances to play in the team's young frontcourt.
Now they may have to do more convincing.
"The national team and the Olympic Games are now our key considerations," Chen said. "If Yi goes to a team where he can't compete, that would be being irresponsible to the national team."
The 2008 Olympic Games will be played in China, and Yi and Houston Rockets center Yao Ming will play together on the Chinese team's front line in the basketball competition. The Chinese team placed eighth in the 2004 Athens Olympics.
It is important to Chinese officials that Yi receive significant playing time in his first NBA season. Both the Guangdong team and CBA officials would have to approve Yi's release to the NBA.
Yi's Guangdong team won three straight Chinese Basketball Association championships before being dethroned by the Bayi Rockets this year. During the past CBA season, Yi averaged 24.9 points and 11.5 rebounds, and he was selected sixth overall by the Bucks in the June draft.