- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
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CHICAGO -- The Houston Rockets will send a four-person delegation to China on Saturday with the intent of striking a deal to make Yao Ming the No. 1 pick in the 2002 NBA draft.
Houston player personnel director Dennis Lindsey told ESPN.com Friday that the Rockets were given approval by the Shanghai Sharks to head to China on an open-ended visit to meet with the team, Chinese Basketball League officials and the government of sport representatives. Rockets general manager Carroll Dawson, who is battling an eye infection, coach Rudy Tomjanovich, legal counsel Michael Goldberg and public relations manager Nelson Luiz will make the trip to China.
The Rockets want assurances from Yao's Chinese representatives that he will play a full NBA season instead of being plucked away at any given moment to play for the Chinese in lesser-known tournaments. The Rockets understand Yao would be obligated to play for China in the Olympics, World Championships and the Asian Games. The World Championships and Asian Games will occur this summer and would prevent Yao from being in training camp until two weeks prior to the opening of the NBA season.
The Rockets won't take Yao if they can't get this assurance before the draft, but have no plans to trade the pick. Lindsey is remaining in the United States until draft night so he can continue workouts for other potential top picks should a deal with the Chinese fall through. The Rockets will work out Duke's Jay Williams next week in Houston. Williams is expected to be the No. 2 pick, or a No. 1 pick worth trading up for with Houston, which already has guard Steve Francis. Houston also has the No. 15 pick in the first round and has to work out players for that selection, as well as their second-round pick at No. 53.
Yao would be the first international professional player chosen No. 1 overall, and the Rockets could be the first team to strike an announced pre-draft deal with the top pick, something usually reserved for the NFL draft.
Meanwhile, according to a broadcast report Friday, the Rockets have notified the Sharks that they'd like to have a long-term relationship with the
7-foot-5 center. Shanghai general manager Li Yaomin told Houston
television station KRIV in a telephone interview his team had
received a letter it had requested earlier in the week giving the
Rockets' assurance that if they draft Yao June 26 they will keep
him and not trade him.
"The process is now at the stage I have been waiting for. We can now meet face to face with the Rockets and the real
negotiations can begin,'' Li told the station through interpreter John Dao, a Houston businessman who is the Sharks' local spokesman.
"I am extremely happy with the Rockets' expression of a long-term relationship with Yao Ming.''
Li told the Rockets not to come to China until after the draft, unless the Sharks got reassurances from the Rockets they were
serious about drafting Yao. Dao also said negotiations to acquire Yao's services could
be complicated by another Chinese player, Wang Zhizhi.
Wang, who's played for the Dallas Mavericks the last two
seasons, has failed to report to China for mandatory training with
his national team.
Chinese basketball and Mavericks officials don't know where he
is, fueling speculation Wang might be thinking of defecting.
"It's negative. (Li) says (it) may have a big impact because of
the security of such a talented asset and person,'' Dao said.
Li has said that before the Rockets can acquire Yao, approval
will have to come first from the Far East Recreation Club, which
owns the Sharks.
Also, the mayor of Shanghai must give his blessing. Then, the
Sharks would seek approval from the national government in Beijing,
the China National Basketball Association and the China Olympic
Basketball Committee, in that order.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
29mMarc Stein and Tim MacMahon
NBA Free Agency Experts