Andrei Kirilenko opts out of contract, becomes unrestricted free agent

Steve McPherson —  June 29, 2013 — 15 Comments

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As Jerry Zgoda over at the Strib reports, Andrei Kirilenko has decided not to exercise his $10.2 million player option for next season and will instead become an unrestricted free agent. Kirilenko could still be back with the Wolves next year, but at this point, it doesn’t seem likely, given that he wants to get a longer three- or four-year contract to finish out his NBA career and the Wolves don’t want to commit money that far out, especially with future contract negotiations with Pekovic, Rubio and Love looming. 

Overall, I have the sads about this because Kirilenko was probably my favorite player on the Timberwolves this past season, both for his play on the court—where he filled in just about every required gap and did hundreds of little things that went unnoticed and unappreciated by a lot of people—and for how generous he was with his thoughts and his time for the media. Honestly, he was always the first guy I wanted to talk to in the locker room because he was a great mix of funny, smart and engaging on what had just happened on the court, even after a loss. He played far too many minutes and ended up missing games because of injury, which is one reason I would love to see him somewhere like San Antonio where he would almost be guaranteed to play fewer than 30 minutes a game, plus see the playoffs.

And let me stomp all over any idea that Kirilenko wouldn’t make sense for the Wolves next year. Is he a knockdown shooter? No. Is he a lockdown defender at the age of 32? No. But over the course of the whole season last year, he was the Timberwolves consistently best player. He’s not a guy to build a team around—he’s almost too cerebral for that, too reactive and adaptive to force his will on a game—but he’s a guy any team should be happy to have because on any given night he can be the best defender, passer or cutter on the floor. He might rarely be all of those things, but he will give you something each and every night, and that’s to be commended.

Now, let me make a digression about Kirilenko’s choice to opt out and try to put in perspective. (I know I have some Russian readers, so if I’m completely off-base on this, just let me know.) I’ve been re-reading The Brothers Karamazov recently and it is concerned in large part with the question of what is unique about the Russian character. The book was written at a time when the influence of Europe and European thinking was beginning to seep into Russia, when youths where nihilistic and philosophical, plus often dismissive of the simplicity of the Russian way of like in the mid-19th century. In many ways, the novel is about the collision of these two cultures, asking questions about what deserves to survive, whether faith has a place in intellectual thought.

I also spent some time in Kirilenko’s hometown of St. Petersburg about ten years ago and was struck by what I perceived to be the no-nonsense character of the people I met there. One woman—an art grad student—took us around the Hermitage and was amazingly generous and kind to us, pointing out different things about the works and answering our questions in unswervingly fluent English. But when a stranger in the museum leaned over to her and said, “I know we’re not in your group, but I was wondering—” she cut them off with a curt, “No you are not” and turned her back. What I perceived was a veneer of politeness that quickly gave way to an Iron Curtain of toughness.

But my perception comes from my cultural upbringing, which I think is very distinct from that of Russia. I’m completely throwing out things here that I have no sociological basis for, but I feel like Dostoevsky’s concern for the invasion of European thinking and the current Russian love/hate affair with authority born from Communism and its collapse are at the heart of a different kind of thinking that doesn’t have as much to do with loyalty or greed as we might think it does.

Kirilenko’s logic here might seem cold to us, but I think it’s actually a fairly simple calculus: He is 32 years old, and the choice is between taking one more guaranteed year at $10 million, or looking for a longer term contract at likely less money per year but more money total that would ensure his employment through the end of his effective playing days. For what it’s worth, I think he’s right not to put too much emphasis on loyalty to an organization whose main priority is not Kirilenko’s well-being. Here in the U.S., we place a weird emphasis on getting it done together, as a team, in a marketplace that’s supposed to and often does engender cold-blooded wheeling and dealing that we then conveniently overlook. I don’t think Kirilenko’s calculation will be a Sprewell-esque “I have to feed my kids” kind of entitlement issue. It will be absolutely bottom-lining, true to a Russian character that sees things a little more black and white.

So I can respect and understand Kirilenko’s decision, but if we’ve seen him steal his last tip-off for the Wolves, it’s a sad day indeed.

Steve McPherson

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15 responses to Andrei Kirilenko opts out of contract, becomes unrestricted free agent

  1. regardless 10.2 million was hamstringing us. I am glad he has the opportunity to test the market and see what his value is. Last year it seemed as though Kahn was bidding against himself when AK signed for that $20 million. Now his value will be set by actual offers from around the league.

    I hope we can sign him back for $18 over three years (I think that’s a fair market value). That would still leave us room (depending on what Pek costs us) to pick up a SG in FA, or a trade. Would Dallas want/take JJ back in a S&T for Mayo? How about Ridnour back to the Bucks in a S&T for Redick? I would be happy as all heck if we could unload either of those for one of the others.

    Preferably Barea since his contract runs past next year.

  2. I think that AK-47 was told by the new regime not to come back. You presume that this was AK-47′s choice to make, but who wants to come back to an organization where you are not wanted. Flip has made several statements that we need more shooters which inevitable means the 2 and 3 spots. They want to compete for the playoffs and championships sooner rather then later so 10 million on a swingman that can not shoot reliably from the outside was almost certainly not in Flip’s plans.

  3. I don’t think Dallas would ever consider a Mayo for Barea swap unless the Wolves were to offer multiple draft picks.

  4. The way we draft would that be so bad?

  5. Farnorth good one

  6. So… we go after Korver at the 3?
    On a different subject: What about a trade with OKC, Ridnour for Thabo. We need an experienced 2 that can hit 3′s, they need a durable veteran 1 who can take the load off westbrook and keep injuries down, especially late in the season. Their PER’s are similar and their contracts are similar and both expire next year, so it’s not much of a commitment for either team if it doesn’t work. Thabo’s european, we know that seems to be up RA’s alley.

  7. I just don’t see how adding Mayo at this point is a good idea. I know Flip wants shooting, but I didn’t think he was going to sacrifice defense to get it. You need good defenders to win in the playoffs and Flip is about to let the best perimeter defender on the team go. I would hope he recognizes that Shabazz and Love and Bud being healthy are enough upgrades in the shooting department to get a wing who can defend now that AK might be leaving. With Pek and Love manning the middle, I don’t see how we would expect to be a very successful team with Ricky as the only good perimeter defender. I would look to try to add a 3 and D guy like a Courtney Lee or Jared Dudley over Mayo because we know they will be at least average to good defenders against 2′s with size. If we got Shabazz because he can put the ball in the bucket, don’t we need a guy next to him who can actually defend so we have some balance?

  8. I appreciate your literary and cultural sophistication, but, uh, Steve, it’s just basketball.

  9. If you are reading an English translation of Dostoyevsky, read the ones translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. They have excellent notes that give historical, sociological, and literate background to what Dostoevsky seemed to be aiming at. They also emphasize his humor which many earlier translations neglect.

  10. UndeadHartman June 30, 2013 at 2:50 am

    What about signing Igoudala? Is there no cap space or salary for that? If he’s added at SG the starting lineup would be ridiculous.

  11. I remember playing Detroit, I think, last year, though it doesn’t matter who it was. It was later in the game, though I don’t think that mattered either. A Piston had the ball around the foul line. Things got tight, as looking for a shot or an advantage can get. He was facing the basket now looking to pass, typically. And then he noticed AK, and the corners of his lips went up. Never had he seen anything like it. From the free throw line, and with everyone in their usual place, the arms of AK was able to block an area never seen before: a bounce pass, lob, shot. It looked animalistic how defensive he is: professional, fearless, clever, thorough, effective. He looks freakish, cartoonish, but more human than most really. A combination, obviously must be guided spiritually in an atheistic way, when simply not hurt, makes stops.

    From what I could perceive last year, this team looked to be merely an emotional team.
    This was not going to do for AK. He was grateful to be back in this league, and had hopes for such a caucasian team. But the team leader lacks a professionalism to set up the rest of the team. I feel the apathy of it even when certain elements are sitting a row back.

    So what could’ve been last year will not work, sadly. It was my first year observing this club. AK will go elsewhere predictably, even willing to take less money (he skipped on 10M). Barea and RIdnour and the coach will want to go if they can. I believe these people enjoyed Minnesota. It’s just that, all things being equal, one would rather do things well.

    Pek, Love and Ricky are not the answer, and not even close. Teams coming in will always feel advantaged with the availability of steals and blocked shots. There will be room to make mistakes and come from behind against the Wolves. And that makes for a dangerous opponent like the Detroit Pistons.

    I feel about Love as I do Howard. If Houston takes him, I may have to stop observing them, sadly.

  12. His wife Masha is quintessentially Russian, not he. He is too accommodating. Saw this for years in Utah. Look for her to land them in a fashion-forward city.

  13. The post above me reminds me of a scene in Billy Madison, It came from the principle near the end of the movie.

    I will just finish out the last sentence.

    “I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.” But the entire quote is much more applicable

  14. Joe A. Preusser June 30, 2013 at 3:27 pm

    Agreed Farnoth, we are all much dumber for having read that. Nowhere in his incoherent ramblings was there anything resembling a point.

    No points is a gift.

  15. Stop looking at me SWAN!

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