Yi Jianlian would never call this easy.
Training camp isn’t, and isn’t supposed to be easy. Neither is making an NBA roster after four years out of the league. But there is a difference from his first attempt in the NBA, nine years ago.
“I just feel more comfortable,” he said, still sweating from some extra shooting after the Lakers’ fourth day of training camp at UC Santa Barbara.
His comfort level is showing. Yi’s athleticism and shooting have aided his quest to make the Lakers’ roster. Last month the Lakers signed Yi to a one-year deal that could be worth up to $8 million if he hits certain incentives. He’ll have to play his way onto the team, and might be doing just that.
“He’s been really good,” Lakers Coach Luke Walton said. “He’s been shooting the heck out of the ball, which is obviously something we can use. A big man that can step behind the three-point line and help space the floor. I’m a big believer in an open-space style of game. He’s probably our best three-point shooter out of the bigs.”
Yi began his first NBA stint as a lottery pick in 2007 when the Milwaukee Bucks took him sixth overall. The transition proved difficult.
“It’s tough for me that time,” Yi said. “That time I was not able to speak a lot of English. First time overseas. Not really knowing the American culture at the time. There was a lot of new stuff to pick up. It was tough for me, but it’s a great experience.”
A year later he was traded to the New Jersey Nets, and two years after that, the Nets traded him to the Washington Wizards. He played briefly for the Dallas Mavericks in 2012, and that stint seemed to be the end of his NBA career.
The Lakers, though, kept an eye on Yi. For the past two seasons, they worked him out occasionally. When their salary cap situation allowed it, they recruited him to return from China.
“He’s not been in the NBA for four or five years, but we know he has NBA size and athleticism,” Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said. “Certainly he can hold his own physically. He’s got a great skill.”
As the Lakers saw it, they took a low risk in signing the 6-foot-11, 240-pounder and had the length of the preseason to evaluate his ability and his fit on the roster.
While Yi always believed in his ability to fit the Lakers’ system at either power forward or center, he had to show that to his new team. As training camp progresses, he’s doing that.
“It’s just basketball,” Yi said. “Nothing different than basketball. The new thing is just different coaches right now, we have a lot of new stuff, lot of new defense rules, we’ve got to pay attention on that and put it in the game.”
After Friday’s practice, he stayed late and shot a series of three-pointers. He drained two before the third bounced off the rim as he worked to further strengthen one of his strengths.
The Lakers had referees at practice on Friday in an effort to cut down on fouls.
“We want to be a team that doesn’t send the other team to the free throw line,” Walton said. “If we actually have refs here, we can focus on the coaching, and if they’re doing things right we don’t have to worry about looking for fouls
It also gives the players a better understanding of exactly how they’ll avoid fouling.
“The first night we scrimmaged, we [could] tell,” Walton said. “For two straight days all we talked about was not fouling and we fouled probably 30 times that day in the scrimmage. So it’s just good to get that type of information.”
Forward Julius Randle got hit in the face during Friday’s practice and suffered a bloody injury to his mouth. Randle did not need stitches for the injury. … Lakers rookies sang for a crowd after Thursday night’s practice. First-round pick Brandon Ingram sang “Diamonds” by Rihanna while dressed as a poodle. “His nickname is tiny dog,” guard Jordan Clarkson said. “So that’s why they put him in the dog suit.” … The Lakers worked on their offense and defense during Friday’s practice, focusing on transition defense and movement away from the ball.
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