Yao Ming to opt out of his contract?

It has always been assumed that Yao Ming wouldn’t dare opt out of his current contract with the Rockets, which has one year remaining at $17.7 million, after taking the year off to rehab his seemingly always injured left foot. But when asked about the possibility in March, his answer was surprisingly non-committal.

“Not sure. I’m not sure until after we discuss it,” Yao said. “We have not started to discuss it yet, so I’m not sure, either way. I have to talk to my agent first before we start to decide where I need to go. If you ask my agent, he will say, ‘I have to ask Yao and we will start discussing it’.”

Well, the two sides are now apparently discussing it. But the situation is no less muddy.

Apparently, Yao and the Rockets are working on a contract extension. Rumor has it that he would opt out of his current deal and then would be offered a new 4 year maximum contract. The snag? Well, Yao wants 6 years.

He’s got to be crazy, right?

Every so often, an incredible physical specimen enters into a sport that he is not conventionally built for, but uses that very same advantage to become a dominant force.

When Yao Ming first entered the NBA, he was certainly an incredible physical specimen at 7’6″ tall, and he could do things that guys who were only seven feet tall couldn’t dream of doing. One of the best shooting big men ever to play the game, Yao had an amazing touch. When he got the ball down low, he was the closest thing this league had to unstoppable. Even the league’s biggest centers had no chance of blocking his turnaround shots. The only real answer to his size and shooting ability was to stop him from catching the ball on the block in the first place.

He could do the conventional things big men do too, such as block shots and rebound. He was an amazing talent, nothing like the NBA had ever seen before.

He may not have had the strength of a Shaquille O’Neal or the agility of a (I’m not sure who to put here, but he’s certainly not what you’d consider agile), but his size, skill, and competitiveness were more than enough to dominate on a nightly basis. When the national audience got a peek at him for the first time, we were convinced he would be a star. Remember that January 2003 game against Shaq, when he scored six points and blocked two O’Neal shots in the game’s opening minutes?

In that regard, he hasn’t disappointed. Over the course of his seven-year career, he has proven to be the clear-cut best center in the professional game. Dwight Howard’s performance in the Eastern Conference Finals should end any lingering debate.

But what we couldn’t foresee back then was that the rigors of the NBA would prove too much for his long and slender frame.

After missing just two games out of 246 in his first three years in the league, Yao’s body began breaking down.

In his fourth season, Yao endured a 21 game stint on the inactive list in after developing osteomyelitis (whatever that is; actually it’s a bone infection) in the big toe on his left foot. Following a successful recovery, with only four games left in the season, he suffered a broken bone in his left foot. The injury required six months of rest.

Early into his fifth season, he was injured again, this time breaking his right knee while attempting to block a shot. The healing process forced him to miss 34 games.

At around the time of the trade deadline in his sixth season, Yao went down with a stress fracture in his left foot, which forced him to miss the rest of the season.

In his seventh year, Yao finally completed his first full season since 2004/05. It paid huge dividends for his club, which reached the second round of the playoffs for the first time ever during Yao’s tenure. But, invariably, all went wrong again. During the second round match-up against the Lakers, Yao went down, this time with a hairline fracture in his left foot. The injury was said to be career-threatening, and Yao missed all of this past season recovering.

Yao’s rehabilitation is continuing, and he expects to be ready for training camp at the beginning of October.

But even if he makes a full recovery, there is nothing to suggest the string of injuries will not continue. Carrying such an enormous load – he’s listed at 310 pounds – on such a frail frame will inevitably force a body to break down.

He probably can’t cut off his legs and still play NBA-caliber basketball. Even if he could, he’d be a lot shorter, and a lot less effective.

With Yao, the writing is on the wall.

In that light, I felt it was awfully generous for the Rockets to offer him a four-year maximum contract so quickly. After all, nobody can definitively say yet that he’ll be able to lace it up for another game in his career.

Asking for six just feels greedy – surprising behavior, perhaps, for a man who is otherwise so generous.

If he does opt out, it would be interesting to see what sort of contract he could garner on the open market.

Take Miami, for example. Yao would be a perfect fit alongside Dwyane Wade. He also carries with him an enormous international fan base that could elevate the city into mega status. But how much would you be willing to pay for a guy so prone to injury, particularly one that will turn 30 before the season starts?

I just can’t see any team outside of Houston willing to offer Yao a maximum contract. And, by rule, he certainly wouldn’t be able to garner his desired six years.

It’s not as if Yao needs the money. He has led Forbes’ Chinese celebrities list in income and popularity for six straight years, earning $51 million dollars in 2008 alone. His sponsorship deals have ranged from Nike and Reebok to Pepsi and Coca-Cola to smaller partnerships with Visa, Apple, Garmin, and McDonald’s.

Logic says Yao will remain a Rocket.

And so does Yao. “I think my future is still in Houston,” Yao commented earlier this month.

4 Responses

  1. Pach says:

    agility of hakeem

  2. Max says:

    he sould get nothing but a 1 year deal for his 1st season back, he should earn his money by showing hes healthy and the same as before.

  3. Albert says:

    The Rockets could wait until after the season starts to negotiate an extension. It would be interesting to see if Yao would opt out if that was the stance they communicated to his agent.

    The problem for Yao is the same as with everyone else. He’d love to secure a long-term contract before the current collective bargaining agreement expires.

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