Mike Ehrmann - Getty Images
Andrei Kirilenko arrived in Minnesota and had his introductory press conference today
I apologize for forgetting to put up the link to the live feed of Kirilenko's presser earlier this afternoon. That work thing and all.
Kirilenko was drafted in 1999 (the year we drafted Sizzlerbean), 24th overall, in the time before scouting and drafting Euro talents was a big thing. That explains how he dropped behind names like Quincy Lewis, Dion Glover, Kenny Thomas, Tragan Langdon and Devean George.
He elected to spend two more years playing in Russia (sound familiar?) before finally joining the Jazz. He promptly made the All-Rookie team, proving to be a perfect compliment to the Stockton-to-Malone magic.
In 2003-2004, after Stockton retired and Malone left for Los Angeles, Kirilenko was moved to the power forward position and became the Jazz's lone bright spot. He was named an All Star and made the NBA Defensive Second Team. In a true display of versatility, he led the Jazz in every statistical category except assists, averaging 16 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 3 blocks a game.
In 04-05 he led the league in blocks and again was named to the NBA's Defensive Second team. In 05-06 he missed being the league leader again by an 0.1 average (Marcus Camby's 3.3/game to Kirilenko's 3.2), but was named to the All Defensive First Team.
06-07 began a very difficult time for Kirilenko, as the Jazz re-focused running their offense through Carlos Boozer and prepared for the imminent rise of Deron Williams. Kirilenko found his role greatly reduced, and struggled to adjust to that, and to what he felt was Williams' often stubborn and tempermental personality and favoritism (accusations he's since been proven right about) There were a few very public, very personal attacks leveled at him, and an emotional breakdown at the end of the year during the Jazz's playoff series with the Rockets.
Kirilenko was able to round back into form the following year, but was always in a 3rd of 4th option type of role. He spent his last season in Utah dropping in and out of the starting lineup opposite of Gordon Hayward, and keeping relatively quiet as the Williams/Sloan situation imploded on the Jazz.
He then spent last season back in Russia with his old team, CSKA Moscow, where he once again dominated the Euroleague and then led Russia to the Bronze medal in the Olympics.
AK-47's press conference has been a long time coming. The team signed the 10 (11....13...?) year veteran at the end of July, but his arrival was delayed by the Olympics, a mandatory post-Olympics ceremony for Russian medalists, and a little R&R.
But now that Kirilenko is rested and Putin is done with the parades and arresting inappropriately named, semi-anonymous feminist punk-rock bands, he's here and....if his press conference was any indication....he's ready to get started.
[note: Kirilenko speaks in somewhat broken English, so I've filled in some of the grammatical gaps in the transcription]
Kirilenko: Thanks for having me here. It's finally...after spending the year in Russia, getting the chance to be back in the NBA, and be part of such a great organization. The Timberwolves have been very very hospital (ok fine...he said 'hospitable'. But it sounded like 'hospital' dammit) Had a great time the last couple days, all the people in the front office...Dave...very helpful to make my adjustment as easy as possible. All my career I played with the Jazz, so I don't know anything about any of the other NBA teams. So far it's a great, great experience. Coach Adelmen, he's beenreally really helpful. I want so say thanks for this. It's been a great time.
John Krasinski (AP): How much did the year away playing at home refresh you mentally as much as physically to be ready to come back here?
AK: It definitely helped. Last year when the lockout started in the NBA, I had a unique opportunity to play in Russia in front of Russian fans. In the middle of the season, when the lockout ended, I decided I should stay, I should finish the schedule, I should prepare for the Olympics, and it helps. It really paid off. I had a great Olympics games where we won the Bronze medal, and now it's a great opportunity to get back in the NBA with that fresh in mind, feeling like you really have something. I think I have a lot of good energy to bring to the Timberwolves.
Mike Max (WCCO): Why the Timberwolves? ...how did they convince you, or how did you convince them?
AK: It's not just one factor. I've always tried to combine little pieces, and all the little pieces were on the Timberwolves' side.
First of all, it's very flattering when the team is interested in you and when they're chasing you. Dave, give him huge credit, he did a great job. Rick Adelman, he was always calling me, and he explained that I'm a very important piece for the team. This is very very nice when those people are interested in you.
Another factor: Alex Shved (nice...helping the new team before he even puts on the jersey) He's another Russian piece on the team. It's a very promising team, very ambitious. A lot of guys are European guys, and the style of the game is definitely the kind of style I like. I know that. I haven't practiced one practice here yet, but I already can see that it's going to be a very very fun season.
I've always been a fan of coach Adelman, in Sacramento when we played them at the beginning of my career with Vlade and Peja. He has a European flavor of basketball, and I bet this team is going to play the same type.
Kevin Love has improved so much, and he's really a superstar in this league right now. We're really going to try and help him as much as possible.
Question (don't know who): David, when you watched Shved and Kirilenko play together over there in London, is that the kind of chemistry and things that you envision them having over here as well in this system?
David Kahn: I hope so. Because it even exceeded my expectation. I had never...I did see Alexey play together with Andrei with CSKA in the European Final Four. They won their first game, and then had a....I hate to bring this up in front of Andrei...had a tough loss in the championship game (a 1 point loss to Olympiakos) And not that their connection in those to games was poor, but I did get the sense at the Olympics and on TV a little bit too, that their connection seemed to be even better, that they seemed really to be tied together.
And so I think this is going to be a good situation for Alexey too, to have almost in effect like a big brother here. Unexpectedly, because this wasn't....we didn't know how this was going to play out. But I think this will be very helpful for him to have such a familiar face and someone he deeply respects....and for Andrei, I think it's nice to have someone here too, although like I said, I think it might be more important for Alexey than it is for Andrei.
Jerry Zgoda (Star Tribune): How many different positions do you think you can defend, and what do you think you can bring to this team defensively?
AK: All my professional career I've been guarding from position 1 to position 5 (meaning he guards everyone) In the NBA, I think it's 2 to 4....I don't think point guards or centers are in my category. But definitely, all the guys from Kobe to Kevin Garnett, that's my position, defensively.
Ray Richardson (Pioneer Press): Has the game changed in the year you were away, and how much did you watch the NBA while you were back at home?
AK: I watched last season, the lockout season, and I really enjoyed it. It was a big, intense season with a lot of games, and actually Minnesota did a great job up to the point everyone started getting hurt. The team played really well, and that's one of the reasons I looked a little differently at the team. Ricky Rubio improved so much. He really had a breakout year. Kevin...is Kevin. You guys like Kevins here. I think the team's future looks very bright, and I'm happy to be a part of it, and I will do my best to bring something to the table, starting with experience and defense and the little things that are needed in the locker room.
Mark Remme (Twolves.com): Did you always envision being back in the NBA, or was it going to be more of a long term situation in Russia initially?
AK: To be honest, I didn't really think I was going to stay in Russia for a long time. Again, because of the lockout, I had the chance to play in prime time in front off all the Russian fans. But I always thought I would get back to the NBA.
Question (don't know who, but damn good question. Andrei was really happy to answer this one): Andrei, at this point in your career, are you comfortable being in that mentor role on a team, or does that feel different for you?
AK: Oh, it's no different at all. I've been in that kind of role with the Russian national team, and my last couple years with the Jazz. Right now I feel very comfortable to be in the position when you have something to share with the younger guys.
I've never been a vocal leader who like 'hey guys, let's do this, let's do that'. I'd always looked up to John Stockton. He was my hero at that point, always a quiet leader, who likes to show by his example how you're supposed to work and what you're supposed to do.
Question (don't know who. Call you station people...): How has your game changed in the 10 years since you came into the league. And did Prokhorov try to convince you to go to New Jersey? (Brooklyn, dude..)
AK: I know everyone wants to know about different teams and different offers, but I don't think it's very nice or correct to comment on different teams.
But about change, I've definitely changed since I came into the league first 10 years ago, 12 years ago. I was a young guy, I didn't know what to expect. Now I'm coming back with 10 years of old luggage behind my back and knowing what to do in tough situations. Like they said before, it's 700...? 700 games behind my back, some of them have been easy, some of them have been hard...tough situations, and I definitely know what to do in that point of a game.
Ray Richardson (Pioneer Press): Just from being a year away, does anything strike you as being different that you're kind of getting ready for that you didn't have before you left, or didn't see before you left?
AK: I've been familiar with a lot of different players and a lot of different situations. I don't think much changed, but the biggest adjustment for me was probably 5-6 years ago when a few guys at my position came into the league. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo came into the league, Kevin Durant started playing, so that changed my position at 2, 3, 4, and it started being way tougher (laughs) Way tougher to play.