An MRI done on Yao Ming’s foot revealed that he has a stress fracture; he’s been ruled out for play this season even though he’s not experiencing any pain. He’s only played 5 games this season, so all told, by the end of this season he will have played in only 5 of the last Rocket’s last 164 games. Yao has been a model citizen off the court, and when healthy he’s been a very productive player (career averages of 19 points/game and 9 rebounds/game). The question is what should the Rockets do with Yao now? He’s a free agent at the end of the year, and this year he’ll take home a nice $16 million dollars. Do the Rockets resign a guy who may never play in a meaningful game again, or do they sever ties and use the money they would pay him to build a contending team?
I say that the Rockets HAVE to resign Yao Ming. So far in his career they have paid him roughly 75 million dollars (unfortunately for him half of that went to the Chinese government). That 75 million is nothing compared to the exposure and financial opportunities Rockets owner Les Alexander has encountered through his Chinese import. Not only are the Rockets reaping the benefits from this Chinese money, the whole NBA is profiting. Two NBA stores have opened in China (ironic since the NBA store in New York is going to close in 2011), jersey sales are steadily increasing, and over a third of the traffic at nba.com comes from China. Why would the Rockets want to forgo this financial windfall? The only reason they would be this foolish is if they actually want to win a championship. Seriously, the NBA is a business, and as great as it is to have a parade at the end of the year, wouldn’t it be better for Les Alexander to bank tens of millions of dollars for his corporation every season? For those who may not know, Chinese fans made Tracy McGrady’s jersey a top 15 the last three years even though he hasn’t been close to a top 15 player. Moreover, Yao has been voted an all-star starter every year he’s been in the league. Other than the great Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston has only had 14 players selected as all-star starters in their history. The Rockets have two championships in their history, but they’re most known for winning while Michael Jordan was retired. I’m sure Alexander is a fan of the sport and is very competitive, but don’t people go into business to make a profit? He doesn’t have to be Donald Sterling and straddle the salary minimum every year; he can pay guys a competitive rate and still field a decent squad. Let’s be honest, most fans don’t expect their team to be good enough to win a championship unless they live in Los Angeles, Boston, San Antonio, New York, or Chicago. They’d be pleased if the team plays hard every night and makes the playoffs more years than not. This is all the Rockets have to do. Sign Yao to about 5 million per season, give the illusion that they want to win a title, and everyone is happy. Houston fans will be satiated because the team will compete for a playoff spot every year, and Chinese fans will continue to adore Yao and the Rockets even if he spends every game on the bench wearing a big and tall Armani suit. Don’t Orlando Magic fans remember Grant Hill basically missing 4 seasons dealing with foot/ankle issues? They didn’t try to run Hill out of town, and he didn’t have near the financial or international cache that Yao commands.
The other, and more foolish, decision is to let Yao leave and potentially sign with another team. There are only a few outcomes if this scenario happens. Firstly, Yao regains some of his old form and has a productive career twilight similar to Grant Hill or Arvydas Sabonis. Second scenario is he joins a playoff team and with solid play he helps them win championships like Bill Walton. The third outcome is that he stays hurt and basically wastes a roster spot on his new team. The thing about all of those outcomes is that Yao will generate countless millions of dollars to his team that other clubs could only dream about. To sum things up, any NBA team with a goal of financial security will use a roster spot for Yao Ming. In all reality, which team really needs all 12 players to have any success? If your rotation is more than 10 guys, players will certainly complain about minutes and shot attempts. To prevent all those problems, just sign Yao and watch the millions roll in.