MINNEAPOLIS — Andrei Kirilenko won’t leave the Twin Cities many signature moments to remember him by, but that isn’t because the veteran small forward didn’t make a difference during his one season with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The man nicknamed after a gun just operates more like an M-16 than a bazooka.
The guy they call AK-47 takes a knack for steady, persistent production with him to Brooklyn after opting out of his second year with the Timberwolves.
“I think he just sort of wanted something different,” said Shved, noting he wasn’t particularly comfortable addressing his good friend’s future. “It’s his life.”
Kirilenko got different, alright.
Rather than rake in a guaranteed $10.2 million in Minnesota next year, he opted to take a steep pay cut and join a team playing — and paying — for a championship next season. Between salaries and luxury tax, Brooklyn owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s roster will cost about $186 million.
The Nets added Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in addition to a hefty payroll that already featured Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson. When figuring in luxury tax, signing Kirilenko via the team’s taxpayer midlevel exception will cost $16.7 million.
Prokhorov, the man shelling out that cash, obviously doesn’t give a rip.
Minnesota’s doing its best to create an upturn, too, but not with the financial volume present in Brooklyn. Flip Saunders is doing everything possible to keep forward Chase Budinger and center Nikola Pekovic and bring in small forward Corey Brewer and shooting guard Kevin Martin, all while staying under the NBA’s $58.7 million cap.
AK liked it here. So did his family. But the allure of championship expectations is worth more to him — about $7 million, to be precise — than remaining where a postseason berth next spring will be considered a huge turnaround.
A sizeable load was heaped upon the 11-year veteran’s shoulders during an injury-riddled stint in Minneapolis. With starters and rotation players dropping left and right, Kirilenko was forced into added playing time and asked to score, facilitate and defend.
Even at 32, he manned all stations admirably. His 31.8 minutes per game ranked first on the team (not including Love, who only played 18 games), and his 12.4 points a contest were good for second. He also chipped in 5.7 boards and 2.8 assists an outing.
There was the night Kirilenko went off for 26 points in a loss to Charlotte. There were several others he chipped in a double-double.
But it’s the minute details — setup passes, maneuvering through screens, shot selection — that have largely defined his career. It was those facets, only noticeable by the most attentive of spectators, that he developed during a decade in Utah and transported to the North.
But besides fundamental and technical prowess, Kirilenko leaves behind a younger generation of international players he helped mentor.
Shved, a product of Russian professional team CKSA Moscow along with Kirilenko, said he’s a living testament.
“He’s really helped me through first year,” said Shved, who is entering the second season of his three-year rookie contract. “This is a different culture. … He always helps me, he and his wife Masha, they’ve lived here 11 years, so they know everything.