Yi Jianlian officially returned to the NBA this week, and it represented a bit of a risk on the part of the Los Angeles Lakers. The risk is small, though, because the Lakers have little to lose and the contract is structured unconventionally. While Yi signed for one year and $8 million, he needs to reach several benchmarks in games played in order to make that full amount. Basketball Insiders' Eric Pincus has the details:
- Only $250,000 of Yi's contract is fully guaranteed.
- Yi's base salary of $1,139,123 -- the minimum for a player with five years of NBA experience -- will become guaranteed if he is still on the roster on Jan. 10, 2017.
- Yi will make an additional $2,286,959 if/when he plays in his 20th game, his 40th game and 59th game.
Essentially, if it is clear that Yi can't help the Lakers in training camp, all they'll owe him is $250,000. If he plays in 20 games, he'll make $3.4 million. If he plays in 40 games, he'll make $5.7 million. If he plays in 60 games, he'll make the full $8 million. This is an extremely team-friendly deal, and Yi has made a bet on himself. Should he become a consistent contributor for Los Angeles, he will be able to find a guaranteed, multi-year deal after the season.
Theoretically, this creative contract also benefits the Lakers because it is a trade chip. For the purposes of any potential deal, Yi counts as $8 million against the cap, but the team receiving him could acquire him and waive him immediately. With the salary cap rising again next summer, this is a less valuable asset than it used to be, but it's always possible that some team will want a little more financial flexibility.