Yao Ming obviously believes he'll be healthy and as All-Star effective as ever next season — and is certain that will result in a huge payday in the summer of 2011.
That's what Yao's decision to not opt out of the last year of his contract with the Houston Rockets signifies. By playing for the $17.69 million he's due next season — and choosing not to become a part of this summer's ultra-crowded free agent class as he could have — Yao gets to show every owner in the league who covets his China crossover marketing might (and that's pretty much every owner) that he is more than worth the investment of a max deal.
By doing this (a move that most so-called NBA experts found out about today when Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted a TV interview Ming gave), Yao sets himself up to be the big prize of the summer of 2011.
He would have been a fool to go into market this year as a big question mark with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire and Joe Johnson already out there, sucking up major money.
Of course, this only works for Yao if he comes back healthy and stays on the court for most of next season. If he really thought the bones in his feet were too messed up and worn down by the pounding that supporting a 7-foot-6 frame brings, he would have been smart to opt out and get a multi-year deal before anyone saw that he was a shadow of himself. He wouldn't have received as much interest from as many teams, but he still would have landed a big-money deal.
This is why this move works for the Rockets too. It's clear that Yao believes in Yao. No matter how many encouraging reports (and Ming dunking videos) the Rockets sent out about his recovery, this is the first, true confirmation from the man himself.
Yao still clearly sees himself as a franchise player.