During predraft workouts, the 76ers never hid their affection for 6-foot-11 Chinese power forward Yi Jianlian. And on draft night, the team apparently made an all-out effort to acquire him.
Billy King, the Sixers' president and general manager, said after Thursday's draft that he was close to a deal with a team in the top seven. A source yesterday revealed that the team was Milwaukee. The player the Sixers were looking to move up to draft was Yi, who was taken at No. 6 by the Bucks.
King preferred not to address the issue yesterday, but on draft night, Bucks general manager Larry Harris acknowledged having talked with the Sixers.
"We had a lot of discussions with Philadelphia as well as other discussions," Harris said. "At the end of the day, we really felt like instead of moving back and doing some other things that this was the best decision for us."
The Sixers, according to a person familiar with the dealings, offered different scenarios - some with just draft picks, the 12th and 21st in the first round, and some with current players.
Yi's agent, Dan Fegan, had resisted Milwaukee before the draft, not allowing the Bucks to see his client in a private workout in Los Angeles. The Sixers were invited to the workout.
A Bucks official said that Yi didn't visit Milwaukee yesterday and that there was nothing concrete about when or whether he would come. However, the official also said a reason could be that Yi has current commitments to the Chinese national team.
When King was asked whether he would talk again with Milwaukee, he said he preferred to talk about the players he had, not the one he didn't get.
King reiterated that he was very happy with his two first-round picks - 6-8 Georgia Tech freshman Thaddeus Young and 7-0 Colorado State junior Jason Smith. The Sixers also appeared to get good second-round value with 6-7 Vanderbilt swingman Derrick Byars at No. 42 and 6-10 Providence center Herbert Hill at No. 55.
There won't be room for all four rookies, but King has said things will work themselves out.
While it was believed that the Sixers would draft an experienced player, such as Florida State senior forward Al Thornton, with the 12th pick, there apparently was little debate among the team's brass.
King didn't want to get into comparisons, but he praised Young for qualities on and off the court.
"We love his skill and his character," King said.
So do others.
Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said yesterday that Young was like another former Yellow Jackets player who left for the NBA after one year: two-time Toronto all-star Chris Bosh.
"They are very much alike - both great high school students and low maintenance," Hewitt in a phone interview. "I don't think the 76ers could have gotten a better combination of talent and character."
Smith also earned praise.
"Jason is a very hardworking, genuine young man, just a great person," said Dale Layer, his head coach at Colorado State and now an assistant at Liberty.
Carter to Cleveland. Paulsboro High graduate Russell Carter said he would play for the Cleveland Cavaliers' summer league team. The former Notre Dame guard was not selected in Thursday's draft.
Contact staff writer Marc Narducci