Yao has appeared in only five games this season, and hasn't played since Nov. 10, due to what was originally termed a bone bruise in the same ankle. In fact, Yao's left foot has been a constant source of frustration and agony for the 7-foot-6 center, who missed all of last season with a broken bone in the same foot.
Somewhat ironically, the revelation of Yao's injury occured on the same day as the NBA's announcement that he's leading all Western Conference centers in All-Star votes. He has 430,984 votes, more than twice as many as Andrew Bynum (198,044), the West's next leading vote-getter at center.
There is no timetable for Yao's return, but given his recent history, it's very possible he'll miss the remainder of the season. And if that's the case, it's also possible that he's already played his last game in the NBA. Yao has admitted in the past to contemplating retirement should his injuries continue, and considering the fact that he's in the final year of his contract, there's no obligation for him to attempt yet another grueling comeback.
"I'm going to still try hard to get back, but I know if one day is the day, then that's the day," he told FanHouse's Sam Amick in October. "It's just a matter of time."
Even if Yao is eventually ruled out for the season, it's still possible that he can help the Rockets. His expiring contract is worth $17.7 million, and while it may be unsettling for Rockets fans to see a local icon finish the season on another roster, he could be an intriguing bargaining chip on the trade market for a team looking to unload salary.
Of course, whether the Rockets would consider such a move likely hinges on whether Yao has a chance to play again this season, which may not be known for weeks.
The Rockets are 10-15 on the season, mired in fifth place in the Southwest Division.
-- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.