Andrei Kirilenko is having a great season, personally, and professionally. The former Utah Jazz All-Star proved that he still as a lot of game left, especially when playing healthy and free flowing basketball. Kirilenko plays with the same motivation on the court, regardless of what jersey he is wearing; and perhaps some observers have underestimated his appreciation and affection for our little team.
This year he is one win away from being at the top of his game again, having lead his CSKA Moscow team to the finals. For his team this year he played 29.6 mpg, and averaged 14.2 ppg (59 2pt%, 40.4 3pt%, 75.8 ft%), 7.3 rpg, 2.5 apg, 2.0 bpg, and 1.4 spg. These are vintage AK numbers. I don't think he was the problem on Utah, just the ever present "communication issues" that would seem to prop up from now and then. (Sound familiar?) When used right he's a weapon. After all, you can't use an actual Ak-47 as a sniper rifle, it's built as an all-purpose tool for, among other things, CQC. And we know from first hand experience that you can't use THE Ak-47 like a Bruce Bowen and in the corner and hit threes defender. He obviously still has a lot of game left, he keeps racking up awards for playing professional ball against other pros.
His latest was his MVP award. He did everything, especially win games.
A few weeks ago it seemed like the New Jersey Nets had Andrei in the bag, I even wrote that it was the case. Apparently that's just not the case yet. Read it and weep, Nets fans. In fact the Chicago Tribune (via Reuters' Zoran Milosavljevic) just posted an interview with AK where he talks more candidly about the facts.
"Having played here as a youngster I found it easy to fit in and adjust to the European game because I've always been a team player and I am happy to trust my team mates and let the game come to me rather than to force the issue."
Still uncertain about his future, Kirilenko faces the same dilemma at the end of the season when the time comes for him to decide which of his two passions to follow.
"I have a huge history with the Utah Jazz and they are a priority for me among the 30 teams competing in the NBA, while CSKA are just as close to my heart in Europe and when the Final Four is over I will weigh my options and make a decision."
I'd love to have AK back. He is a) a better player than the veterans Josh Howard, Raja Bell, and also C.J. Miles. and He is b) more professional than all three of them. And c) he could come off the bench, or start or whatever, and not make a fuss. And those three guys combined to cost $9,090,000 on the salary cap this past season. Andrei should be $1m to $1.5 less than that. Clearly, in a perfect world the Jazz will also see Andrei as a "priority." With how they've brought back a number of guys for second stints (David Benoit, Blue Edwards, Howard Eisley, and now recently Raja Bell), there exists a historical precedence for this.
It's all very unlikely, but a fan can dream. Andrei would give us bench depth, versatility, and the defense and leadership that Raja/Josh did not this year. And again, he shot 40% from three this year.