03/27/2009 10:59 PM ET
Changes too little, too late for Nets
Yi stays on the bench in loss to Lakers
By Brendan Kuty / SNY.tv
Bobby Simmons (right) is looking like the better part of the deal that sent Yi to New Jersey. (AP)

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- So in the end, it never made a difference, because if it did, the Nets would have won, the Izod Center would have somehow imploded and bits of my laptop (and torso) would be strewn across the landfills that dot this area.

No, Ryan Anderson never reduced Lamar Odom into a whimpering ball of ineffectiveness, and Yi Jianlian's temporary banishment from the rotation couldn't stop the Lakers from outlasting the Nets, 103-95. And yes, the Nets' playoff hopes still remain slimmer than Bernie Madoff's chances at a presidential pardon.

But Friday night's game was good for something. It provided the Nets' brain trust (see: Rod Thorn) an opportunity to see how Yi will eventually rebound from public humiliation. (Knee-jerk prediction: Yi hasn't rebounded much all year, so don't count on a Rocky IV-style comeback.)

Which brings us to this question: If somebody said last June that toss-in Bobby Simmons would have been the better player in the deal that sent Richard Jefferson to Milwaukee, Yi to Bergen County and Nets fans into a delirious tizzy, would you have believed it?

Eh, maybe.

Simmons was a low-risk throw-in for the Bucks, a guy they could subtract without losing much REM sleep to get Jefferson, a proven commodity. He's a hustler -- not the kind Jay-Z raps about -- but a forward who, in coach speak, "brings it every night and does the little things."

But what if it happens again next year? What if next season Yi pulls another no-show, slows the development of another first-round pick (see: Ryan Anderson) and gives poor Frank agita each time he just stares at a potential rebound instead of shoving himself into position?

Probably nothing. Yi's a quiet guy. That's how they grow 'em in China. He won't force his way out of New Jersey the way he did out of Brew City, hoping to snare big-market attention. But Yi would take his place in the Hall of Nets Players Who Had Potential But Lacked It. He'll find a home in the same sentence as Keith Van Horn, Eddie Coleman, Marcus Williams, Kenny Anderson, Chris Morris, Dennis Hopson, and on and on...

Early Friday morning, Frank informed Yi that he would stay on his butt against the Lakers. It was as good a time as any. Since returning from a broken pinkie, Yi has been a model of ineptitude. Over 18 games, he reached double figures in scoring only once, played worse defense than a subway turnstile and shot .357 percent.

Soon after, Yi blamed his slide on a weakened ego. And soon after that, Frank wondered if Yi had any ego left.

"Let's be frank," the head coach said. "I don't think he was playing with a great deal of confidence."

But here's the thing: as Yi went through the motions, the Nets -- unless you believe in unicorns and government bailout packages -- flitted out of postseason contention. They're 4 1/2 games behind eighth-seeded Detroit with 10 left. Why didn't the switch to the rookie, who, by most accounts, at least showed some intensity while subbing for Yi for 19 games, come sooner?

Frank said it had nothing to do with the amount the team had invested in Yi.

"Because Eduardo [Najera] wasn't able to give us much because of injury, our four-man spot was two young players," he said. "It's hard when you've got two young guys -- both have different strengths and weaknesses. So you've basically got to pick one at the end of the day."

And Frank chose Yi.

"We have an investment in Ryan as well," Frank said of Anderson, who had nine rebounds and four points in 23 minutes. "We drafted him in the first round. It just came to a point where it was time to go back, give Ryan a shot and maybe Yi taking a step back can maybe help him the way it's helped other players. And hopefully it's a win-win for everyone, but it's not an easy decision."

He's right. The Yi-Anderson conundrum isn't exactly like picking the better Chris between Bosh and Dudley. But it's a decision Frank should have made in February.

Brendan Kuty is a regular contributor to SNY.tv.
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