CHICAGO -- Mike Dunleavy's decision on whether to stay in the NBA draft could hinge on negotiations between the Houston Rockets and Yao Ming this week in China.
Dunleavy, a 6-foot-9 Duke junior forward, said Saturday that he is keeping close tabs on what happens because it could affect his draft status. He's well aware that the Rockets could take him with the No. 1 pick if the Rockets decide against drafting Yao. The Rockets already have a point guard in Steve Francis and would likely shy away from Dunleavy's teammate, Jay Williams.
"The situation with Yao Ming in China affects my decision a bit,'' Dunleavy told ESPN.com. Dunleavy made a decision to come to Chicago on Friday for three days of NBA-sponsored physicals in case he stays in the draft. "I haven't come to a decision yet as to whether or not I go back to Duke for my senior year and go through a wonderful experience or fulfill a lifelong dream of going to the NBA.''
Dunleavy has until June 19 to decide if he's going to stay in the June 26 draft. The Rockets sent four team representatives to China on Saturday for an open-ended trip. The Rockets should know if they are going to get assurances that Yao will not be yanked back to China during the regular season when they meet with Shanghai Sharks and Chinese basketball representatives in the league and the government. But if they don't know the answer before the 19th, then Dunleavy will have an even tougher decision because negotiations could conceivably break down a few days after the deadline. The Rockets said they wouldn't wait until draft day to see if a deal with Yao can be done.
"A lot of this has to do with Yao Ming because if teams start getting scared about him then this could be a big deal (for Dunleavy at possibly No. 1),'' Dunleavy said. "I want to see how this all works out.''
Dunleavy said he knows he won't be the top pick in 2003, which is expected to be Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary High wing LeBron James.
"Everyone says that I should come back next year and that I will go higher but that's not the case,'' Dunleavy said. "There could be high school kids and with the way they draft I could slip no matter what kind of year I have. There's no point in me deciding right now. It could all change in a week.
"If everything turns out how it is right now then I've got to sit down and do something concrete,'' Dunleavy said. "There isn't enough complete information.
I just got to feel really good about it and make the call. Coach (Mike Krzyzewski of Duke) has been real helpful. Three years ago it would have been tougher (because of Duke losing players early in the draft for the first time), but coach has gone through it and he wants what is best for me.''
Dunleavy affects the draft order more than any other player outside of Yao. Kansas' Drew Gooden, Connecticut's Caron Butler, Maryland's Chris Wilcox, Memphis' Dajuan Wagner and Northeast Mississippi Community College's Qyntel Woods will have their draft position affected by Dunleavy's decision. They could all move up or stay anywhere from 3 to 8.
"Golden State (at No. 3) is interested in Dunleavy and so is Memphis (at No. 4) and so is everyone so he will affect the draft like Yao Ming will affect the draft,'' Gooden said.
But the advice from his family seems to be that he should go back to Duke.
"I told him over the weekend that I think he should go back because he's struggling with it this much,'' Mike Dunleavy Sr. told ESPN.com. "This should be something he wants to do. It's all about going back for his senior year. It's not about the teams. It's not about where he's going to go. They're all great cities. He didn't plan for it. He could have graduated and would have done it. He's looking forward to the challenge of his senior year and it being his team.''
Dunleavy Sr., the former coach of the Blazers and Lakers and a former player with the Bucks, said his son is savvy to the financial benefit of leaving early. He isn't under any financial duress but would be "giving away $15 million,'' according to Dunleavy, by not getting into the draft and starting the clock toward his second contract in four years.
"There is a draw for both sides,'' Dunleavy Sr. said. "They're both good for different reasons. If he goes back he could get his number retired and have a chance to be player of the year. I'm his father and I wouldn't put him in a position if he weren't a lock for the top five.''
Dunleavy isn't scheduled to hold any individual workouts after the Chicago draft camp. Dunleavy would be a consensus preseason all-American and one of the top candidates for player of the year if he returns to Duke.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com. Katz covers the NBA draft for ESPN.com and ESPN.