With China's national team playing in the States nonstop since the draft, Milwaukee has been able to monitor the 7-footer closely for two weeks since defying threats from Yi's domestic and Chinese handlers that he'd never report to the Bucks if they selected him with the No. 6 overall pick.
But Team China's five-game stint in the NBA Summer League, after a minicamp and two warm-up games in Dallas, finally ended Wednesday night with an 80-52 loss to the Boston Celtics. After a quick trip to Nike headquarters in Portland, Yi and his countrymen will soon return to Beijing to prepare for two international tournaments and a brief tour of Germany.
So now what?
Training camp is 12 weeks away. Yi's camp insists that he won't sign with the Bucks and that the 19-year-old is prepared to play no professional basketball for a year to make himself eligible to re-enter the draft in 2008, unless the Bucks trade his draft rights. Milwaukee --- skeptical that Yi and Chinese basketball officials are prepared to hold him out of so much top-level competition leading into the '08 Beijing Olympics -- insists that it still won't even consider trade offers and remains hopeful that Yi will soon accept their invitation to visit the city and the team's home base.
"When we drafted him, we knew it wasn't going to be the typical situation," Bucks coach Larry Krystkowiak said Wednesday while watching Yi struggle to post seven points on 1-for-5 shooting against the Celtics in his summer league finale.
"But I just think, when it's all said and done, he's going to be in a Bucks uniform. And hopefully this will have been a great learning experience for all of us. I think it can be a key in validating the NBA [draft] system."
Krystkowiak and Bucks general manager Larry Harris were permitted to meet with Yi for about an hour on the eve of summer league play and presented him with a Bucks jersey. They also told him, through the help of an interpreter hired by the Bucks, that there would be an immediate opportunity to earn playing time in Milwaukee.
"I felt there was a lot accomplished," Harris said Friday of the face-to-face chat. "He got to know us a little bit and we got a chance to explain why we drafted him, explain the role we envision for him and talk about the opportunity in Milwaukee."
When asked how receptive Yi was to his pitch, Harris added: "He was very pleasant, very engaging. I think he's excited about playing in the NBA. But I made it very clear [to Yi] -- not in a negative way -- that we're not going to trade you."
In response? Yi didn't outright demand a trade but, according to sources, insisted that it remains his wish -- as opposed to an agenda being pushed by Nike or his American agent Dan Fegan -- to play in a bigger market with a larger Asian population.
It's still too soon to predict which side gives first, but there's little doubt that the increased curiosity and scrutiny generated by the standoff impacted Yi's success in Vegas. He actually outplayed Greg Oden and Kevin Durant on Opening Day here with a solid 23-point showing in a loss to Memphis but shot the ball horrifically thereafter … apart from a 17-point fourth quarter against Cleveland in which Yi banked in a game-winning jumper in China's only victory.
The Chinese went 1-4 -- including losses of 26, 23 and 28 points -- and Yi wound up shooting an unsightly 25.5 percent from the field (13-for-51) in averaging 12.8 points.
Jonas Kazlauskas, China's Lithuanian coach, borrowed from his NBA peers after the Boston game by complaining that Yi was banged around excessively while being given much less leeway from the referees at the other end than many of his American counterparts. Yet Kazlauskas didn't dispute that Yi has probably heaped more pressure on himself, in the midst of the difficult transition from China's weak domestic league to the best league in the world, with his campaign to choose the NBA team he plays for.
"For sure," Kazlauskas said when asked if uncertainty about the future was affecting Yi's play. "It's normal to worry about [the] future. Maybe that was a big problem for him, too."
A more direct line to Yi's thinking was unavailable because he granted no interviews to English-speaking reporters in Vegas except for an NBA.com reporter who promised to ask no Milwaukee questions. Fegan has likewise declined to speak publicly about the stalemate, opting for diplomacy at this delicate juncture.
NBA commissioner David Stern, furthermore, also has declined to expound on how he might try to mediate in this situation, given his well-chronicled interest in broadening the league's relationship with China.
"Milwaukee can be a great opportunity for Yi," Krystkowiak said. "I'm not promising a set amount of playing time -- I wouldn't promise Michael Redd or Andrew Bogut a set amount of playing time -- but there will be an opportunity for Yi to play right away. I believe that his biggest concern is going to be what happens on the basketball court. There can be a lot of distractions in a larger market, but he's going to have a great focus on basketball in Milwaukee."
Yi's struggles in Vegas suggest that a basketball focus will be handy if he ends up in Milwaukee -- or anywhere else on the NBA map -- when training camps open Oct. 1. He'll need time to develop no matter where he winds up, despite what most scouts agree to be superior body control and athleticism for a player Yi's size.
Not that Krystkowiak sounds very discouraged, even though he has no idea when (or if) he'll actually get a chance to work with Yi.
The Bucks' new coach, who took over in mid-March for Terry Stotts, contends that Yi will instantly look better when he's surrounded by top-caliber teammates … and when he's finally in an offense that allows him to be a pick-and-pop player. On a Chinese team perennially plagued by suspect guard play, Yi is often asked to operate down low -- which definitely isn't his game -- or work out of pick-and-rolls.
"I was the only person in the organization who hadn't seen him live [before summer league]," Krystkowiak said. "But it seems to me that he's got all the tools we thought he had.
"He runs like a [smaller] wing player. Great feet, great hands, very well-proportioned. Like all rookies, he's got to get stronger. But it's not like he's been shying away from contact. And with the kind of ground he can cover, how well he moves from one end of the court to the other, he's going to be a great piece of our puzzle."
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.