New Net Kirilenko Laughs Off Under-the-Table Money Talk
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Andrei Kirilenko had a million and a half reasons to leave $7 million on the table when he exited Minnesota for Brooklyn.
And no, it had nothing to do with the ongoing conspiracy theories that Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov had made him a lucrative side deal to compensate for the moneys lost on his exit from "The Land of 10,000 Lakes".
“[The Russian community in Brooklyn] is a huge factor," Kirilenko stated during his initial teleconference with the local media Thursday morning. "It reminds me of playing at home [like I did in Moscow during the lockout season]. It’s a great situation. There’s about a million and a half Russians in New York.”
Kirilenko, 32, will soon be one of them after he accepted a $3.2 million one-year contract from the Nets, with a reported player option on Year Two, leaving a $10.2 million pact he had coming to him from the Timberwolves for the 2013-14 season.
Due to his friendship with Prokhorov, many speculated that the two comrades had made a pact that would involve Kirilenko getting compensated in other ways for the huge amount of salary he left behind in Minnesota.
Kirilenko, nicknamed A.K.-47 for his shooting touch and uniform number, quickly quelled any thoughts of a back-door deal, and intimated that he thought the rumors were steeped in American stereotyping of Russians.
Though he did so with a smile rather than a grimace.
“I can’t change it. I can’t control it," Kirilenko said of the speculation. "Those type of rumors come from stereotype of Russia and KGB. I think it’s funny. So be it. What can I do?”
The Nets are doubtlessly hoping Kirilenko, who averaged 12.4 points and 5.7 rebounds in 64 games for the T-Wolves last season, can further fortify an already formidable reserve corps as Brooklyn tries to fulfill Prokhorov's mandate of an NBA crown during his first five years of ownership.
“It’s definitely a great honor that Mikhail Prokhorov got the team," Kirilenko said. "I was glad that finally we had a Russian owner in the NBA.”
With a Hall of Fame and All-Star-laden starting five of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams, the Nets will still rely heavily on their bench depth.
Kirilenko will join fellow reserves Jason Terry, Reggie Evans, Andray Blatche, Shaun Livingston and Alan Anderson in giving the Nets one of the NBA's most versatile and complete 15-man rosters.
“I think this will be a tremendous year with all the talent we have here. I hope we can do it together. I’m very happy to be in New York," Kirilenko said before adding that he still wasn't sure where he would be living during the season.
“The Nets right now are very complete at every position. There is no recipe right now how you are going to beat one team or another because it’s a game," he added. “We’re gonna compete. I’m worried how quickly we’re going to connect on the same channel. We have a great chance to win. At some point, it’s not good that the team is aging. On the other hand, we have experienced players that know what to do. But we have great depth."
Kirilenko also pointed to the recent shift in power in Minnesota as a factor in his decision. New T-Wolves team president Flip Saunders may not have been willing to extend a long-term agreement to the Russian big man, leaving the door open for Kirilenko to explore other options at his disposal.
“To be honest, I thought I was going to be in Minnesota a long time," Kirilenko ceded. “I don’t have any regrets. During the summer, I always sit with my wife and discuss different options. For me, my family .. at this point, the Brooklyn Nets was the best option possible. But if you take a look, 10 years ago I would not take that deal. But it’s a great chance to win that [championship] trophy."
Aside from Prokhorov and the million and a half Russians in Brooklyn, Kirilenko will be greeted by another familiar face upon his arrival Downtown.
Williams, the Nets' $98 million point guard, spent six seasons playing side-by-side with the 6-foot-9 forward during their days in Utah, where Kirilenko established himself as one of the league's premiere Sixth Men under legendary coach Jerry Sloan.
“[Williams] and I had a great time back in Utah," noted Kirilenko. "We have a lot of great memories playing basketball. He knows my best and weak spots.”
Though he stopped shy of calling the Nets instant championship contenders, Kirilenko did intimate that Brooklyn has all the pieces in place to make a serious run for the Larry O'Brien Trophy come next spring.
“I’m not saying we’re going to win it. It’s going to take a lot of hard work," he noted. “It’s going to be a great time in the locker room. We know how competitive we are, and now we are on the same page. If you want to make a long run in the playoffs, you have to be on the same page.”
Having a good friend and fellow countryman at the top doesn't hurt either.
“It’s always great when your owner is very passionate about basketball," Kirilenko said.
And willing to do whatever it takes to deliver Brooklyn's first major pro sports title since 1955.
Hoop du Jour: Though the official 2013-14 NBA schedule won't be released until next week, the Nets are rumored to have a marquee game slated for the campaign. Brooklyn will host the Chicago Bulls on Christmas Day at the Barclays Center in a rematch of last season's first-round playoff series.