Posted Jun 19 2009 2:26PM
BEIJING (AP) -- Houston's Yao Ming has called a possible move to Cleveland an "unknown," but did nothing to dampen ongoing speculation that the Cavaliers' new Chinese part owners want to sign him.
In a recent interview with his hometown Shanghai TV station, Yao said he continued to have "much affection" for the Rockets, the team that picked him as a first-round draft pick in 2002 and with whom he has played all six of his NBA seasons.
While Yao had not tasted a championship, he said Houston's drive to the second-round of the playoffs in 2009 had given him hope that the Rockets can contend next season.
Rumors of a possible switch have swirled since a group of Chinese investors signed an agreement last month with the Cavaliers to become minority owners of the franchise, a move expected to boost the team's popularity and marketing opportunities in China, where Cleveland star LeBron James is already very popular.
"This is all an unknown," Yao said in the interview, a transcript of which was posted online Friday.
"I've already been with Houston for such a long time, I still have much affection for this team," Yao said. "Moreover, this past season we were very successful, and that let me see some hope.
"Regardless of whether its a Chinese boss, or a foreign boss, they're both bosses and a boss is just a boss," he added.
Cleveland has not publicly expressed interest in Yao, who has one guaranteed year left on his contract with Houston, including a player option for the 2010-11 season.
Yao avoided injuries through the regular season before breaking his troublesome left foot in Game 3 of the second-round playoff series against the ultimate champion Los Angeles Lakers, raising lingering questions about his sturdiness.
His future, and that of the Rockets as a team, largely depends on his health, along with that of fellow all-star Tracy McGrady, who underwent tricky microfracture surgery in February.
Houston fans had envisioned a championship run after the team traded for the unpredictable Ron Artest last summer, but both Artest and McGrady are uncertain to return.
Regardless of the Cavaliers' marketing plans for China, its hard to imagine Yao becoming any bigger in his homeland than he already is. The 7-foot-6-inch center is ubiquitous on billboards and television advertising and last year further bolstered his brand by setting up a youth charity.
Still, the lure of a championship remains strong and Yao conceded to feeling jealous of fellow China national team member Sun Yue, who snagged one this year with the Lakers.
"There's a little bit of envy. If I didn't have feel even some jealousy, then I'm afraid that really would make me a little too much of a slacker," Yao said.
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