Josh Newman, Field ReporterNewly-acquired Nets forward Andrei Kirilenko readily admits that if this were 10 years ago, maybe he doesn’t settle for a two-year contract beginning at $3,18 million as he is doing with the Nets next season. Now, at the age of 32 with a family and a vast personal wealth built on 11 years in the NBA, things have changed for the Russian import.
Kirilenko had a productive 2012-13 season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, averaging 12.4 points and 5.7 rebounds in 64 games before declining a $10.2 million player option for 2013-14. That was not completely unexpected as his assumed intention was to chase one more multi-year contract while he still had good years left.
The real surprise came on Thursday when the 6-foot-9 Soviet Union-born Kirilenko revealed that his hope was to remain in Minnesota.
“To be honest, I opted out of my deal not because I wanted to sign with the Nets, but at that time, I wanted to be in Minnesota for a long time,” Kirilenko said via conference call on Thursday morning. “There was some change in Minnesota and I really respect Flip Saunders. I respect his decision to decide to not sign me for a long time.”
As Saunders replaced David Khan as General Manager, Kirilenko was not part of the future there. As the early days of July and free agency wore on, it started to become clear that the big money and multi-year commitment Kirilenko sought may not come. His misfortune turned into a windfall for the Nets.
On July 11, sources confirmed to SNY.tv that Kirilenko had agreed to take the Nets’ mini mid-level exception, a two-year deal starting at $3.18 million with the second year being a player option. That, after the Nets struck out in their efforts to land Kyle Korver with the mini-MLE and after a reported three-year deal with Euro-stash Bojon Bogdanovic had fallen apart.
The addition of Kirilenko’s multi-faceted game is a key piece of the puzzle off the bench for a Nets team that got a radical overhaul last month and figures to contend in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference at the very least.
“All the details, which is coach, roster, goals, money, you kind of combine all those things together and try and find the optimal option,” Kirilenko said. “For me, my family, where we want to play, how we want to do it and at this point, the Brooklyn Nets are the best option possible if you combine all those things.”
“For the first time in my career basically, I’m starting the season knowing we have a chance to win the whole thing”
Much has been made and will continue to be made about Kirilenko and his relationship with Nets billionaire owner and fellow-Russian Mikhail Prokhorov. Before coming to the NBA, Kirilenko played for three seasons in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s for Russian Euroleague power CSKA Moscow, which was owned by Prokhorov at the time.
Their relationship has led to conspiracy theories as to how Kirilenko wound up with the Nets for such a small salary. On paper, a productive player like Kirilenko is likely worth far more than $3.18 million despite his age.
“Those type of rumors, I can’t control, I guess it comes because of the Russian KGB,” Kirilenko said tongue-in-cheek in reference to the infamous Soviet Union security agency. “When he (Prokhorov) got the team, I was very happy that finally, a Russian owner has a team in the NBA.”
Generally referred to as the best player Russia has ever produced, Kirilenko is averaging 12.4 points and 5.6 rebounds in 745 games across 11 NBA seasons. The 24th overall pick by the Utah Jazz in the 1999 NBA Draft, he was, at the time, the youngest European ever drafted at 18 years, 132 days.
Josh Newman is SNYNets.com’s Field Reporter. Follow him on Twitter for up to the minute news and banter on all things related to the Brooklyn Nets and the NBA