Sources: Mavs, Yi Jianlian agree on deal

Updated: December 31, 2011, 10:47 PM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

The Dallas Mavericks are about to sign a player they've long coveted, reaching terms Saturday on a one-year contract with free-agent forward Yi Jianlian, according to sources with knowledge of the deal.

The contract is likely to be finalized within the next 48 hours, sources said.

Yi

Yi

The 6-foot-10 power forward has spent the past four seasons in the NBA but was still available in free agency thanks in part to a knee injury Yi suffered during a brief stint playing for the Guangdong Southern Tigers, after helping the Chinese national team clinch a spot in the 2012 London Olympics earlier in the summer.

Yi averaged 16.7 points and 10.3 rebounds in three games with Guangdong but has been recovering from a knee injury after a teammate fell on him during a game.

Sources told ESPN.com that Yi will join the Mavericks' D-League affiliate Texas Legends in nearby Frisco on a rehabilitation stint before joining the Mavericks to help reacquaint the 24-year-old with full-speed basketball.

Sources said Yi also considered signing with the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs before settling on Dallas.

Playing in the D-League would reunite him with Legends coach Del Harris, who coached China to an eight-place finish at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. In 2011 with the national team under American coach Bob Donewald, Yi averaged 16.6 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks and earned tournament MVP honors while leading China to the championship.

The Mavericks have mostly been looking at centers to fill their 15th and final roster spot in the wake of Tyson Chandler's free-agent departure to the New York Knicks.

Sources said the Mavericks remain interested in burly free agent Kyrylo Fesenko, but they'd now have to release someone currently on the roster to make room for the 7-1, 290-pound big man who spent his first four seasons with the Utah Jazz. ESPNDallas.com reported Friday that Fesenko was strongly leaning toward taking a one-year minimum offer from Dallas after the Ukranian's expected deal with Golden State collapsed.

The Mavericks were well-acquainted with Yi's game long before he was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks with the sixth overall pick in the 2007 NBA draft, thanks to Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson's longstanding connections to China. Dallas was the first NBA team to successfully sign a Chinese player, drafting Wang Zhi-Zhi with the 36th overall pick in 1999 and ultimately bringing him over during the 2001-02 season.

Yi spent last season with the Washington Wizards and has career averages of 8.5 points and 5.3 rebounds.

Unlike Wilson Chandler, J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin and Aaron Brooks -- who signed in China during the lockout and who will not be able to return to play in the NBA until the Chinese season ends in March -- Yi will receive his FIBA letter of clearance from Guangdong to immediately join the Mavericks because the Chinese Basketball Association's rules forbidding in-season out clauses for NBA players does not apply to Chinese nationals.

Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

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