NEW YORK - Yao Ming received final clearance today from the Chinese Basketball Federation to play in the NBA, and the Houston Rockets announced that they would select the 7-foot-5 center with the No. 1 pick in the draft.
"I received a letter early this morning from Chinese Basketball Association chief executive Xin Lancheng confirming that all of his concerns have been addressed," Rockets attorney Michael Goldberg said. "We are looking forward to drafting Yao with the first overall selection in the NBA draft."
The announcement by the Rockets removed some of the uncertainty that had sprung up as the hours counted down toward tonight's draft.
With all the other NBA teams now certain that Yao would go first, the focus switched to trade talk among teams looking to retool their rosters and move up in the first round.
Juneau-Douglas High School alum Carlos Boozer, who played for Duke University, is expected to be selected in the mid- to late-first round.
The Cavaliers and Clippers were the teams involved in the most persistent trade rumor, with Cleveland considering sending NBA assists leader Andre Miller, along with the sixth overall pick, to Los Angeles for the eighth and 12th picks, along with a player.
Phoenix also was trying to trade up to move into Cleveland's spot, as was New York. The Clippers, Suns and Knicks all covet 19-year-old Brazilian forward "Nene" Hilario, whose stock has risen dramatically in the days leading up to the draft.
The Memphis Grizzlies, with the fourth pick, also were exploring a myriad of trade options, league executives said.
Yao already had 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 needed clearance from his national federation and could not receive a clearance letter from FIBA, the sport's international governing body, without the consent of the Chinese Basketball Association.
The CBA had concerns regarding whether Yao would be available to play with the Chinese national team in several international competitions.
The Chinese federation had a deadline of Friday to respond to the NBA's request, on behalf of the Rockets, for a letter of clearance, FIBA spokesman Florian Wanninger said.
Wanninger did not immediately return phone calls today.
Yao does not need the clearance letter to be drafted, but he would need it to play in the NBA next season.
"He's very excited. It's a major event in his career and his life," said Yao's agent, Erik Zhang. "I think he's very happy right now. He will be able to compete with the best of the best and he wishes one day to help China win the Olympic medal in basketball."
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 and Portland were said to be eager to improve their draft position and move into the top 10.
Perhaps the one executive who had everyone guessing the most was Grizzlies president Jerry West, who faces the daunting task of trying to turn one of the Western Conference's perennial doormats into a contender.
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. West's best big-man choices are Hilario, Drew Gooden of Kansas, Nikoloz Tskitishvili of the former Soviet republic of Georgia and Chris Wilcox of Maryland.
Chicago selects second and is expected to take Duke guard Jay Williams. Golden State, picking third, should take Duke forward Mike Dunleavy.
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