For the second straight season, Yi Jianlian will return to the Guangdong Southern Tigers, where he won a CBA championship in 2002. (Photo: Osports)
Europe called, but the NBA didn’t — and for Yi Jianlian, that means for the second straight season, he’ll be playing in the Chinese Basketball Association.
According to Lu Yu, a member of Yi’s representative team, who spoke with NetEase yesterday, the 7-foot center will return to the team that raised him, the Guangdong Hongyuan Southern Tigers. According to the report, Yi has already flown back to Beijing from New York and will prepare to fly down to Guangdong to join his team.
This is the second consecutive season Yi has started the year with Guangdong. During the NBA lockout last year, he elected to sign a special contract with his old Chinese team that gave him an NBA out in the event that the work stoppage ended — a feature that Yi took advantage of when he was offered a one-year deal by the Dallas Mavericks.
In two games for the Southern Tigers last season, Yi averaged 23.5 points and 12.5 rebounds. After spending a re-adjustment period in the NBA D-League with the Texas Legends, Yi played 30 games for the Mavericks, averaging 2.6 points and 1.6 rebounds.
The decision to return to China comes in an off-season where the 2007 lottery pick’s future was the least career of his professional career. For the first time since entering the NBA, Yi was not extended a guaranteed contract by an NBA team. Yi did, however, receive heavy interest from major teams in Europe, including Real Madrid. But throughout the entirety of Yi’s off-season, he maintained that his goal was to return to the NBA.
Like last season, Yi’s contract will include a release clause that will allow him a free NBA return if the opportunity presents itself. Speaking to Sina Sports, Yi said he would play out the entire 2012-13 season for Guangdong.
The impact of China’s best domestic player returning to the league will be felt league-wide. In addition to adding top-level international player in Yi, the Southern Tigers will be able to combine him with their two American imports, whom at present have not been officially announced. And since Yi will be registered as a Chinese player, he will be under no playing time restrictions.
The Southern Tigers’ four-year championship streak was snapped last season by the Beijing Shougang Ducks.