Could Yao Ming Be Headed to Cleveland?

Yao Ming teaming up with LeBron? That is a rumor that is putting the fear of God into a lot of the Eastern Conference teams. What would Cleveland gain from the deal? Obviously the big presence they need on the inside, but there are other potential benefits worth considering. Hypothetically, of course.

Last month a group of Chinese investor Huang Jianhua signed an agreement with the Cleveland Cavaliers that made him minority owner. Soon after, the rumors of the Cavs’ interest in Yao began to swirl. This move, were it to happen, would generate a huge boost in popularity for Cleveland . LeBron James is already very popular and adding the Chinese star center would open up potentially lucrative marketing opportunities for Cleveland . It could also add the piece of the puzzle that would finally get LeBron the title that he, along with the championship starved city have been chasing.

Still, the Cavs have not gone public with their interest and Ming still has one year guaranteed on his contract, along with a player option for the 2010-11 season. And Yao has a sense of loyalty to the Rockets who drafted him in the first round of the 2002 draft. And to the city’s fans who have rooted for him year after year only to see him injured and their team unable to contend for a title. Yao ’s proneness to injury is something that has obviously weighed heavily on him. You could see how frustrated he was and how painful it was for him to admit that his body was giving out on him once again during the Lakers series in Round 2. Yao was clearly in pain but was reluctant to come out of the game. Fans of basketball everywhere felt for him. It’s tough to watch someone so obviously gifted be unable to perform to his full potential.

Still the Rockets recent successes have got to give him hope about his team’s chances. And the Rockets have not shown any signs that they are willing to part with him. According to NBA rules, the Rockets could negotiate an extension to the 5 year contract that expires in 2011. Yao can decide to opt out of his contract after this coming season and then the Rockets would need to compete against an open market to retain him.

Given his unique abilities and size, it’s likely that every team in the NBA would be taking a serious look at him if he does indeed decide to opt out. The Cleveland Cavaliers are in dire need of a dominant big man presence in the paint. This is especially true if Ben Wallace does indeed retire and the Cavs top executives fail to make the Shaq trade happen. But it’s equally intriguing to think of the potential marketing campaigns the franchise could create with two of the league’s most dominant players and two large markets in China and the USA.  But for now Yao remains with Houston and the rest of the world can only watch and wait.

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