Unsigned Yi causing quite a stir for Bucks' brass

MILWAUKEE -- Reports that Chinese officials are reluctant to allow 6-foot-11 Yi Jianlian to sign with the Milwaukee Bucks left the NBA team as confused as ever over its top draft pick.

"We have seen confusing reports on what was said," Bucks spokesman Dan Smyczek said Tuesday evening. "We're looking into getting more information to verify what was reported."

In China, Guangdong Tigers owner Chen Haitao was quoted as saying Yi, who plays for his team and was the sixth pick in the NBA draft, would "definitely not" play for the Bucks this coming season and later telling reporters the likely lack of playing time is a primary reason.

"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."

When China is host to the 2008 Olympic Games, Yi and Houston Rockets center Yao Ming are expected to play on the Chinese team.

"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."

To add to the mix, later reports quoted Guangdong vice chairman Liu Hong Xinjiang as saying Yi eventually could play for the Bucks.

Yi was the sixth player picked in the NBA draft and had his first meeting earlier this month with Bucks general manager Larry Harris and coach Larry Krystkowiak. His agent, Dan Fegan, has pushed for a trade and wants Yi in a city with a large Asian influence -- or at least a larger city.

According to Chen, Yi could have trouble seeing action at power forward with the Bucks, who had several injuries at that spot last season.

This season, 6-foot-11 Charlie Villanueva is expected to return, having undergone surgery on his right shoulder.

At center, the Bucks have 7-foot Andrew Bogut, the top pick of the 2005 draft.

Bucks general manager Larry Harris said Bogut, Villanueva and Yi are all versatile players who could play in the same front court.

Fegan did not return messages left by The Associated Press at his office or cell phone seeking comment.

In a poll earlier this month by the Beijing-based China Daily newspaper, 68 percent of 9,000 respondents wanted Yi to join the Bucks.

Former China national team coach Qian Chenghai also supported playing with Milwaukee.

"We don't want to see Yi destroy his reputation in the NBA and return to the Chinese Basketball Association," Qian said last week. "That's horrible."