When LeBron James rattled off the good, young players the Nets have he mentioned every starter but one -- Yi Jianlian. It wasn’t surprising.
James hasn’t seen the best of Yi. The previous four games, his first four since returning from a seven-week absence, Yi averaged 22.5 points and opened up some eyes with his aggressiveness. But he went back to being jump-shot happy against the Cavaliers on Saturday and shot 2-for-13.
So when James omitted Yi he probably was going on the games he played against Yi or his reputation, which is of someone who is inconsistent or lacks aggressiveness or can be taken out of games mentally.
Yi deserves a little more time, especially under this coaching regime, which will allow him to play through his mistakes, before he is judged. Kiki Vandeweghe stayed with Yi despite those misses because he did other things.
“He stayed with it, he kept fighting,” Vandeweghe said. “Your shot’s not going to be there every single night. He hit a big three for us. I was happy he took it. He kept fighting on the boards, he kept playing hard. That’s why he played.”
He is a defensive liability, but he's trying. Yi blocked three shots against the Cavaliers. Our favorite moment was when he was on James one-on-one in the right corner by the Nets’ bench. James seemed to have a smile on his face.
We were waiting for James to fake, drive baseline and throw down a monster dunk. He settled for a three-pointer that missed. Victory, Yi.
It’s probable that James would want to play with a more rugged power forward, but really who knows other than the King himself what he wants. You can presume he wants to play for a team with which he will have he best chance to win.
Neither the Nets nor Knicks would seem to fit that criterion, but you can argue that someone like James would enjoy the challenge of turning a bad team into a contender the way his friend Jason Kidd did when he got here in 2001.
The difference was Kidd had no choice. He was traded to the Nets. Where James goes will be his choice.
We’re always trying to read between the lines and decipher what players are saying, their hidden messages.
What James said about the Nets when asked whether their record will hurt their chances to sign free agents was: “I think their record could definitely be better but they do have some good pieces. I think Brook Lopez, Devin Harris, Courtney Lee and some of those guys -- CDR -- are some really talented players. We’ll see what happens.”
Interpret it this way: James is being political, saying the right thing about a team he knows will pursue him, that his buddy Jay-Z still owns a share of and he’s also keeping the door slightly open to join the Nets.
Also know this: If James doesn’t want Yi or anyone else here, that person won’t be here. But that’s really jumping the gun.
No one knows if Yi will continue to be the Nets' power forward of the future because no one knows who will be making the decisions when Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov takes control of the team.
The most important thing for Yi and the Nets is for him to continue to play with the aggressiveness he's playing with, continue to go to the basket and try and draw fouls.
He didn’t do enough of that against the Cavaliers as their size affected him. The Cavaliers have 7-foot-3 Zydrunas Ilgauskas, 7-1 Shaquille O’Neal and 6-11 Anderson Varejao. Yi and the rest of the Nets relied too much on their perimeter game.
As a team, the Nets need to do more inside because one of their biggest issues is rebounding. Twenty-one consecutive times they have been out-rebounded.
The Cavaliers dominated the offensive glass Saturday. The same can be said about the Rockets last week.
If the Nets grabbed a couple more defensive rebounds on this homestand, let alone this season, they probably would have more than three wins. If the Nets had Yi healthy this season -– this Yi -– they also would have a better record.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).