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Houston's future with Yao may be in jeopardy
NEW YORK -- The Houston Rockets would be happy to select Yao Ming of China with the No. 1 pick in tonight's NBA draft.
But if Yao fails to receive clearance from his national federation, all bets are off.
"Rumor of the day: There's a lot of paperwork trouble in China," said Duke guard Jay Williams, who might just end up being the No. 1 overall pick.
Paperwork trouble is one way to describe the current goings on, which could prompt the Rockets to trade the No. 1 pick to a team that would use it on Williams.
The four teams drafting behind Houston -- Chicago, Golden State, Memphis and Denver -- all covet Williams, but the only way to ensure getting him would be to acquire the No. 1 pick.
Would the Rockets trade the pick if Yao's paperwork remains incomplete?
"We haven't had that discussion yet because we're still optimistic this will work out," Houston general manager Carroll Dawson said Tuesday. "We'll know tomorrow."
Yao, a 7-foot-5 center, has already reached agreement with his Chinese league team, the Shanghai Sharks, on a compensation package that would free him to jump to the NBA.
But Yao also needs clearance from his national federation and cannot receive a clearance letter from FIBA, the sport's international governing body, without the consent of the Chinese Basketball Association.
"No written agreement has been made on Yao's national duties," CBA secretary general Xin Lancheng told the Xinhua news agency. "We want to make sure that Yao will be available to play with the national team when he is needed in the future."
FIBA spokesman Florian Wanninger said the Chinese Federation has a deadline of Friday to respond -- positively or negatively -- to the NBA's request (on behalf of the Rockets) for a letter of clearance.
Yao does not need the clearance letter to be drafted, but he would need it to play in the NBA next season. It was unclear if the Rockets would be willing to use the No. 1 pick on Yao if they were not completely assured that he would be available for the entire regular season and playoffs.
"Things tend to move slowly over there," Dawson said.
If the Rockets decide to trade the pick, the ramifications would be felt throughout the draft.
Williams probably would be selected first, and each successive team would have to quickly decide whether to take a chance on Yao or draft someone else. The teams picking second through fifth are Chicago, Golden State, Memphis and Denver.
"It would have a major impact. Things can turn around very quickly," Williams said.
One trade was made Tuesday, with the Washington Wizards sending guard Courtney Alexander to the Hornets for the 17th pick. Washington now has two first-round selections, including its own at No. 11.
Junior college standout Qyntel Woods said he would welcome the opportunity to be drafted by the Wizards and play alongside Michael Jordan. The Los Angeles Lakers also have an interest in Woods and high school center Amare Stoudemire and were working diligently to improve their position.
The Lakers, along with the Clippers and Phoenix Suns, were among the contenders to acquire Cleveland's pick -- the sixth overall.
The rumor that seemed to have the most legs, according to several league executives, had the Cavaliers sending point guard Andre Miller, the league leader in assists last season, and a draft pick to the Clippers for the eighth and 12th picks and a player -- Corey Maggette, Darius Miles or Quentin Richardson.
Perhaps the one executive who had everyone guessing the most was Memphis Grizzlies president Jerry West, who faces the daunting task of trying to turn one of the Western Conference's perennial doormats into a contending team.
The pressure on West is amplified this summer because the team will not have a No. 1 pick next summer. The Grizzlies owe that pick to the Detroit Pistons from the long-ago acquisition of Otis Thorpe.
Memphis is in need of an upgrade at both center and point guard. If West is unable to move up to select Williams, his best big man choices are Drew Gooden of Kansas, Nene Hilario of Brazil, Nikoloz Tskitishvili of the Republic of Georgia and Chris Wilcox of Maryland.
West also could choose to draft the offensively gifted Dajuan Wagner, who played one year of college ball for Memphis under John Calipari.
Denver selects fifth, the Cavaliers sixth, New York seventh and the Los Angeles Clippers eighth. Next come Miami, Washington, the Clippers, Milwaukee, Indiana, Houston, Philadelphia, Washington, Orlando and Utah.
Toronto selects 20th, followed by Portland, Phoenix, Detroit, New Jersey, Denver, San Antonio, the Lakers and Sacramento.
Boston, Seattle, New Orleans, Atlanta and Minnesota do not have first-round picks.
Aside from providing the rumor of the day, Williams told the story of the day, too.
Last week, he was playing golf on the Duke campus course when he ran into Jordan. (One would think that Jordan, a North Carolina alumnus, would not be welcome at Duke). Jordan wanted to play Williams and gamble $100 per hole.
"I said 'Look, man, I don't have that kind of money to throw around. I'm already in debt,"' Williams said, adding that he had only $20 in his pocket at the time.
Another player with a story to tell was Tskitishvili, who wanted to set the record straight regarding his history as a dancer. One of the stories circulating about Tskitishvili was that he developed superior footwork by learning ballet as a youngster.
"It's a native Georgian dance. It's like ballet, but it's not ballet. You dance with a big knife," he said.
All of the players projected to be lottery picks seemed to be aware of the rumors floating around, particularly the scuttlebutt surrounding Yao. At a media availability session in New York, none of them were even pretending to predict what might transpire before the draft begins at 7:30 p.m. EDT.
"If any team tells you right now that they'd take you, they're lying," said Caron Butler of Connecticut. "It's all up in the air."