MINNEAPOLIS – It’s where he learned to be a pro. It’s where Jerry Sloan “created” him. It’s where he has so many friends, so many acquaintances after 10 seasons that he thinks he might know everyone in the first 20 rows of the arena. It’s where he learned English, “the bad words first, but then you’re got that base, and you’re playing around with it.”
It’s where he learned the value of every game and every win, where in 2003-04, without John Stockton and Karl Malone, the Jazz missed the playoffs by one game. One game out of 82. Nine years later, he’s still incredulous, and he knows it could happen again, this time to his new team up north.
It’s where Wednesday night, he’ll do a double take as he walks in and enters the guest locker room.
Andrei Kirilenko spent a decade with the Jazz, entering the league on a team with Stockton and Malone, coached by Sloan. He left Utah, with its new players and new coach, a free agent during the 2011 lockout, and after a season in Russia, he knew his chances to return were slim; his position, small forward, had been filled by Gordon Hayward. The Jazz had moved on. So has Kirilenko. Wednesday night will be their emotional reunion.
“It’s going to be a little bit special game,” Kirilenko said.
“It’s really going to be, not overwhelming, but it’s going to be nice to get that feeling.”
Kirilenko has a chance to reach two career milestones in Utah; he’s six rebounds away from 4,000 and two steals from 1,000. He’s playing like a younger version of himself, more the 25- or 26-year-old AK-47, not the 31-year-old. Utah fans should be familiar with his work, except now the former All-Star and All-Defensive first team member will be working against the Jazz, rather than for them.
Kirilenko seemed excited to return, and he acknowledged Tuesday the emotions of the whole thing. There are no hard feelings between the two parties, he said, and maybe change was what everyone needed.
“In Russia we say every seven years, you have to chance your work or change your place of work,” Kirilenko said. “I don’t know if it’s true, but it is what it is.”
Ricky’s back: Ricky Rubio remained behind in Minnesota while the team traveled to Utah and Denver, and he’ll be getting treatment on his stiff back. Obviously, that’s not the news anyone wanted to hear after the point guard sat out Saturday’s game against Phoenix, but here’s a friendly reminder that this shouldn’t be a major or even impactful problem.
Rubio’s injury isn’t serious, and coach Rick Adelman didn’t even seem too surprised by it. He’s been talking about the possibility of Rubio tweaking other things while overcompensating for his surgically repaired knee, and there’s the added fact that just more than two weeks into his season, Rubio is still in training-camp mode, getting himself into shape.
The most upsetting or difficult thing about the injury isn’t about what the team is missing – it’s proved it can win without Rubio – but rather about the consistency and rhythm that the point guard remains unable to build. He hasn’t had a great game since his comeback, what with days off, soreness and the general difficulty of beginning one’s season at the pace he’s been forced to do so.
Rubio did some limited work during Tuesday’s practice, which was more than he was able to do Monday. There’s no reason to believe at this point that he is guaranteed to miss more time than just these next two games, though the team will know a lot more once it returns from Denver after Thursday night’s game.