Shocked just like everybody else by Kirilenko’s decision to pick the Brooklyn Nets and terms of the deal, I couldn’t wait for comments from the player himself. After the deal was officially announced, Kirilenko eagerly talked with Pavel Osipov of Sport-Express.
Here is my translation:
A couple weeks ago, after you didn’t pick up your contract option with Minnesota to stay there for another season, you said that you wanted to sign a multi-year deal with one of the clubs. But your contract with Brooklyn is the same, “1 + 1″. Why?
I had a lot of thoughts about the contract length. I talked to my wife and my kids. And I came to a conclusion that I didn’t know what I was chasing. Because, I got a unique chance to play for a team that is a real title contender. To step on the court with stars like Pierce and Garnett – one can only dream about it! This is a chance to join a crusade. This is the first time in my 12 seasons in the NBA that I will be playing for a team which is now one of the main title contenders.
And still, you walked away from 10 millions for one season in Minnesota and agreed to just 3 millions for the same amount of time in Brooklyn!
The financial part of the question really was important. We have discussed it too, for a long time. And we came to a conclusion that you can’t make all the money in the world. And in the NBA, if you want to achieve a serious goal, sometimes you have to sacrifice something.
Just one day ago it was in the news that San Antonio wanted to acquire you. That is a 2013 NBA finalist, by the way. And there was a different sum of money mentioned there – 8 millions per season. Why didn’t it suit you?
I am grateful for all the teams that were interested in signing me. There were plenty of them – believe me, I had options to choose from.
Did you consider staying in Minnesota?
A year ago I was planning a completely different scenario. I thought I would stay in Minnesota for the rest of my career. But these are the NBA realities: things often don’t go the way you expect them to. The previous general manager has left the team, and the situation turned 180 degrees. I don’t blame anyone that it happened. It’s just that other general manager decided to place his bet on other players. All that said, I stick to my opinion that Rick Adelman is one of the best coaches in the league. And the chemistry within the team was amazing. But it just happened that the team went for a younger roster. So all that I can do now is root for Minnesota, just like I do for another team that I played for, Utah. I have left a part of my soul and my heart in those teams.
And still, why Brooklyn?
Of course it was an option for quite some time – from the moment Mikhail Prokhorov became the owner. What really influenced my decision now was the trade with Boston. It’s obvious that it has been done in order to make a serious run at winning an NBA title.
Can you call it the deciding factor?
Yes. In addition to that, I am joining a strong team like that not as a veteran who is only able to play for five minutes, but as a player who is capable of helping the team. There’s a competitive fire, the motivation. It is really hard to constantly find a motivation when you are playing for a team that doesn’t make the playoffs. I know that it’s not going to be easy in Brooklyn. But at the same time, it is really interesting to see what this project will become. To see how several players of this caliber will manage to fit together.
How important it is that Prokhorov is the Nets’ owner?
Of course it is one of the main pluses for me. I know him for a long time, going back to the period when I was playing for CSKA before I first moved to the NBA. You can’t say that we are friends. But we have a good relationship and we support each other. It is great that our guy, a Russian, is so interested in basketball. When he became the Nets’ owner it created a platform – thanks to that, NBA scouts are paying closer attention to Russian players now.
A move to Brooklyn for you is also a reunion with Deron Williams who you played with in Utah for a few seasons.
I talked to him on Thursday and he was persuading me to join the Nets. Williams is one of the best point guards in the NBA, and now he has to organize a team which is stacked at every position. This is no joke when a single team has seven or eight players who know how to play quality basketball.
Another former teammate of yours could have joined Brooklyn – Kyle Korver. But as it became known today, he decided to stay in Atlanta.
It’s a pity, of course. That would have been great! I love Kyle and respect him – as a good teammate, as a player. I still have fond memories of those times in Utah – Memo, Boozer, Deron, Korver, Millsap. Nostalgic! By the way, family question has also influenced my decision: it is great for my kids to reunite with Deron’s kids – they used to be friends. All in all, there is a set of small but warm and good moments that influenced the decision. I think I want to live in New York for a bit. During all my time in the NBA my family has never lived in a big American city. And it is also interesting for me to try and play in one.
Is it interesting to play for Jason Kidd, a coach who was a player himself just a couple months ago?
I have already talked to him. I congratulated him on his appointment. But I called him ‘coach’ and he replied, ‘I still can’t get used to it’. I think it is even a bigger challenge for him than for any of the players. But he is lucky to have a roster like this – he will have to coach players that almost don’t require to be coached! Just look, the current roster has more than 100 years of NBA experience combined! Many players have a career longer than 10 seasons. It will be very easy to explain something to players like that.
Still, doesn’t it bother you that the team is led by a rookie coach?
It is hard for me to evaluate Kidd – I didn’t have a single practice with his team. I only know him as a fantastic point guard. Probably one of the five best in NBA history. It also adds confidence that former point guards do great. Doc Rivers became an NBA champion with Boston, Avery Johnson made NBA Finals with Dallas and Golden State improved rapidly when Mark Jackson arrived.
How well do you know Kidd?
We have known each other for a long time, but we never really communicated on a personal level. Just said ‘hi’ and ‘bye’. We have been meeting since my early NBA seasons when he was a Nets player himself. I remember the way he played for each of his teams, probably other than Phoenix where he started his career.
Doesn’t a company so full of stars scare you?
You can’t scare me with that – I have met each of them on the court many times. Take Garnett, we know each other well for a very long time. By the way, he is the guy who taught me how to play dice – American rules, everything. It happened a long time ago, back in 2006. We were getting ready for the season together in Las Vegas, and on one of the days Kevin, along with Chauncey Billups, has taught me all the nuances.
At the same time you should understand that on a team which is so full of star players, where Paul Pierce is playing at your position, you will almost certainly have to come off the bench.
Well this can’t possibly scare me, that’s for sure! This is my philosophy: it is absolutely not important where you start the game – on the court or on the bench. It is much more important to be as effective as possible during the game. We have touched upon this topic with Kidd. He said I shouldn’t be worried – in any case, I will be playing. Brooklyn has become a veteran team, and extended rotation during games is inevitable. So there should be no problem regarding playing time. Though I don’t try to get inside a coach’s mind. Having played in the NBA for so many seasons, I know it perfectly how to keep myself in shape. And sometimes you can be more useful coming off the bench. Personally, I am confident that I will get enough playing time. And why even bring me on the team if it isn’t so?
I have a feeling that Brooklyn will be very similar to last year’s New York – which also had a lot of veterans who played great during the regular season but didn’t have much success in the playoffs.
I don’t agree. I think it makes more sense to make a comparison with the Lakers. But Brooklyn has a much more balanced roster. Los Angeles didn’t have a deep bench like this – basically it was just four superstars. In the end, all Lakers managed to do is reach the playoffs.
From the moment your agreement with Brooklyn became known, it fueled gossip. First, the fans on the internet commented that Kirilenko had agreed to take a pay cut because Prokhorov would make up for it in Russia. And then a few NBA general managers voiced their unhappiness and asked the league’s office to start an investigation regarding possible under-the-table deal between Russian player and owner. What would you say about these accusations?
Just one thing: it is laughable. It is strictly forbidden by the NBA rules, and the league’s office keeps the situation under great control. It is silly not just to talk about it – even to think of it. Masha and I have argued what is better: to go after more money or play where you want and to try and reach a serious goal. In my career, I have made a decent sum of money. Indecent even. (Laughs). And to not use a chance that the Nets provide would not be right. The times when I could have a desire to make as much as possible have passed. By the way, our family debates were quire serious. But after weighing on everything it became clear: the sum of the factors made Brooklyn a clear winner.
Kirilenko often said that he doesn’t just make decisions alone, and his wife Masha is always involved in a major way – which provoked criticizm, fair or unfair, from Russian fans whenever AK-47 missed an international tournament. So it is easy to see that, after pay cut became inevitable, Kirilenko had to sell Masha on the place where the family could move, and the Nets could offer the most.
Kirilenko himself considered the Brooklyn option from the very beginning, when there was still chance of getting big money offers and it was a long shot.
Follow me on twitter for Kirilenko updates.
Someday I will have to learn how to pull quotes from a text in order make it a quicker blog post, but this Andrei Kirilenko’s interview by Pavel Osipov of Sport-Express was so good that I ended up translating the whole thing once again.
Here it goes:
- It felt like you liked everything in Minnesota. Then why didn’t you pick up your contract option for the next season?
- It didn’t make sense to me. Next year the situation would be the same, and it is uncomfortable for me and my entire family to feel this uncertainty. For all my close ones to keep on thinking, “Do we have to relocate after the season ends?”. So it was a strategic decision. I want to sign a longer contract. And it doesn’t mean that I’m definitely leaving Minnesota – at all. A really do like everything here. Everything but the length of my contract.
– How long do you want it to be? Three or four seasons?
- (Laughs). I prefer it to be for more than one. I am sure that I’ll be able to play at high level for at least three more seasons. After that, maybe I will have to consider signing for a veteran minimum. But it is impossible to say what is going to happen after three years. After all, I used to think that I would retire at 30. But right now I’m already 32, and I am still full of energy and desire to play.
- Does your decision have anything to do with the desire to play for a better team which is a title contender, unlike Minnesota?
- Of course it is always better to play for a good team. But for me, the atmosphere inside a club has a great importance. The team environment in Minnesota is remarkable. I am really lucky in terms of this. And the current roster, I am sure, can do much better than last season when we lost our chances of making the playoffs early.
- When was the first time that you thought that maybe you shouldn’t pick up your option with Minnesota?
- Not that long ago. And anyway it’s just part of the process. They way media presented it is just laughable – as if I terminated my contract with the club and left! It is nothing like that. It was never in my plans to move back and forth between cities. On the contrary, right now I am extremely interested in a more stable situation. That was the reason for my decision. After all, my kids are going to enter school, and it is better to plan things like this beforehand.
- So your priority is to sign a multi-year deal with Minnesota?
- Not exactly like this. To tell the truth, I don’t want to fill my head with all this right now – I’m on vacation. My agent Marc Fleisher takes care of all my business. We are working together for 15 years already and never had any trouble with each other. Normally Marc would collect all the necessary information and present the possible moves to me. Right now I can only tell this – I am still a Minnesota player. I like everything about the club – the city, the teammates, and the organization. The only disappointing thing is last season’s result.
– Did Fleisher already tell you of any opportunities?
- No. It is only possible to start the negotiations on July 1. And the player market opens only July 10th.
- Do you think there is a chance for your comeback to CSKA?
- It is 99 percent that I stay in the NBA. But who knows what may happen. What if none of the 30 NBA teams needs me?
– What would you prefer: a multi-year deal with Minnesota for 10 million per, or with Miami but for twice less the money?
- I don’t want to put myself into some limits. And anyway, does it make any sense to join a team where LeBron James is playing at your position? Or to Oklahoma where there is Kevin Durant? It will almost certainly mean that you are just quietly finishing your career. And I feel myself capable of really being productive.
- And what would you say about Brooklyn which is owned by Mikhail Prokhorov and is bringing in superstars like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce?
- I am really happy to see this trade, I hope it happens. Then both sides benefit. Brooklyn gets the players who can get them to the very top, and Boston is working for its future.
For me, a lot of opportunities are attractive. There are 30 almost equally strong teams in the NBA. Well, maybe there are 10 where I wouldn’t like to play. And it is very difficult to choose between 20 other teams. Somewhere there is a great roster, another team is located in a great city, the third one has a super-coach, fourth is a brilliant organization. And so on.
Still, my chances of joining Brooklyn are minimal. The roster is almost complete. Though… Anything is possible in the NBA.
And anyway, I am going to root for all the teams that have something to do with Russians – Minnesota, Denver, Cleveland, and Brooklyn. Well, and for Utah – just like I always used to. (Laughs).
– You have mentioned Cleveland which has picked Sergey Karasev 19th in the Draft. What is his future like in the NBA?
- It is really difficult for me to see Serega as a player. I know him ever since he was seven, when I used to bring him to CSKA practices. For me he is a son of an older friend (Vasily Karasev – Sport-Express). And I am really happy for him. I can only wish success for him and a move to the NBA as soon as possible. So that he could become the best Russian who has ever played in this league.
In general, I really want our compatriots to gradually take the leading roles on their NBA teams. And I am always willing to do whatever I can to help my compatriots. It will be better if Karasev moves to the States this summer and doesn’t stay in Russia for another season or two. He has already passed that stage and needs another mountain to climb now.
- But after you were drafted, you still stayed to play another two seasons with CSKA. Why?
- I was in a different situation. I was under contract, exactly for two years. If not for that, I would have moved to Utah right away.
– Any other advice you may give to Karasev Jr.?
- He has vast opportunities in front of him. But one should always remember: in American basketball, any incredible things are possible. Nobody knows how a given player’s career will unfold. Remember a guy like Kwame Brown? He was absolutely best at student level, but didn’t become a star in the NBA. Or another example, Kevin Martin. A player who few people knew emerged as a completely different player in Sacramento.
- When do you plan to decide about your future?
- I have nowhere to hurry. Last year there were Olympics. Because of that I didn’t want any speculation and I signed my contract rather quick. And this time I am training individually. I plan on sending my son to a sports camp. And I plan to spend some time there myself. I will resume my full practices in early August.
– And still? You didn’t answer the question.
- I will decide about my future between July 10 and September 29. The sooner it happens, the better. So that I would know it for sure what to do and where to relocate – if I have to, of course. But not everything depends on me. So, it doesn’t make sense to be guessing.
Of course I will be following Andrei Kirilenko’s free agency closely. Follow me on Twitter to receive future updates.
Here is my translation of the entire statement by Andrei Kirilenko regarding his retirement from the Russian national team. He presented it as a monologue via phone, talking to the Sport-Express journalist Pavel Osipov.
Recently I had a long talk with the president of Russian basketball federation Alexander Krasnenkov. I have stated my own position to him in detail and said that I consider retirement from the national team.
The reason is not fatigue. I have thought about it a lot and took advice from a great number of people, mostly relatives and close friends. Many of them don’t object that I continue to play, but… The intense NBA season makes one spend a lot of time away from the family. It takes up all your time for six and a half months at least. I want to be the best dad that I can and take great part in their lives. I want to see them growing up – not limiting myself to just telling them a tale before they go to bed, when I come back home at 10 or 11 and they are not sleeping, waiting for me.
I am not ready to spend my entire summer with the national team and not with my family. If there was a way to do both, I would definitely do it. Yes, we managed to find a compromise before. Sometimes my wife and kids joined me in training camp. But I can’t and shouldn’t drag them along with me. They have their own schedule which I need to adjust to.
I would hate to keep everyone waiting for a long time. It was important to make up my mind and let everyone know about my decision soon – the coaches, teammates and fans. You know that it would happen anyway, sooner or later. Especially now that time has come for the new leaders – Shved, Karasev and others. And the current veterans – Khryapa, Monia and Fridzon – aren’t done yet.
Krasnenkov asked me about one thing: not to give my final word. Originally I wanted to make my plans for the entire Olympic cycle, right up to Rio de Janeiro. But the president and I decided to make a decision only regarding the upcoming Eurobasket and to return to the talks about the national team after a year or two. Maybe then I will once again feel the need for emotions which I am saying no to right now?
As for now, I am doing what I think is necessary. Personally I feel that I gave the national team all I could. And it’s time to pass my power and my responsibility to others. I know that someone will agree with that and someone will criticize me. But, in my opinion, the time has come. Even though I can play at the highest level for another three or four years…
It was always a great pleasure to join the national team. But at the same time I understood that you can’t give a half-hearted effort. If you show up at the training camp, you should take pains just like everybody else. Those 12 years that I spent on the national team gave a lot to me as a person and as a basketball player. We won medals at big international tournaments and those wins will stay in memory forever.
I am grateful to the national team for everything, for all the positive and negative moments. To all the guys that I was lucky to play with. Starting with the veterans who accepted me, a 17-year old, and to the current youth to which I am a veteran myself. And definitely, thank you to all the fans, especially those who were with us in Madrid during the 2007 Eurobasket which we won and in London during the Olympics.
Believe me, this decision didn’t come easy, but for the comfort of my kids I have to sacrifice something. And even if I will never play another game for the national team, I am not saying farewell to it. In any case I will be taking part and helping in some way. But to give it all my free time to an extent that I used to, unfortunately, I can’t.
I say great job by the federation president – nobody really needed that decision, as Kirilenko will be a welcome addition to the team whenever he ever has the opportunity. Retiring officially would make it somehow harder for Kirilenko to come back if he wants to, even though Dirk Nowitzki did come out of retirement with Team Germany.
At the same time, it would be insane to demand something from a player who has already sacrificed 9 of his 12 offseasons.
So we’ll keep the teary moments until the official retirement, and let’s wish Kirilenko manages to add an NBA title to his huge collection, and spends quality time with his family.
Here’s my translation of part of Andrei Kirilenko’s recent interview with Pavel Osipov of Sport-Express.
- Are the games against LeBron special for you?
- They are different. After all, it doesn’t happen every day that you get to face the best basketball player in the world. So each of these games… No, it is not a challenge, but a mini-duel, without any doubt. It is always interesting for me to guard LeBron, because he is a really smart player, who knows not only how to score, but also how to do everything else: rebound, pass, steal the ball. There, he has blocked four of our shots in this game.
- You really have the right to compare, so, is James the best basketball player in the world right now?
- If I say yes, then a lot of people will make noise arguing that it is Durant or Bryant. So I’ll only speak of my own perception. First, the results speak in his favor: Miami has won the title last season. Second, I really sympathize with him because of his versatile brand of basketball that he plays. But what’s probably most important, he is a basketball player who, by playing great, makes his teammates play better too. Regarding this, nobody comes close to him.
The most interesting thing happens when you manage to meet eyes with him. Then sometimes you can tell what he is going to do. But right away you realize that he has already guessed your plans and is going do something else now. That’s the telepathic connection we establish. Who outwits who. Sometimes he does, sometimes I do.
- And what do you need to do to stop him?
- (Laughing) It is easy to say but much harder to do. You need to deny him the ball as much as possible. You should make him take shots from the distance. When James is driving to the hoop, he is extremely dangerous and is literally impossible to stop. Yes, he shoots better from the distance now, but it is still less dangerous than his drives. And, of course, you need to make him go left. It doesn’t lessen the degree of danger, but it is less comfortable for him this way. Today we managed to hold him back for most of the game.
- You managed, in the first place. And then you have successfully moved to guarding Wade, who Shved couldn’t do anything against in the first half, and then Wade scored almost nothing against you.
- Wade scored enough already. It is extremely difficult to guard when the opponents have two super scorers like that. You can, of course, start beating yourself on the chest and shout, “I have stopped LeBron and Wade today!” But it is definitely not so. Yes, this game was rather good for me personally in terms of defense. And I did defend for a few possessions against both James and Wade. But the end result does not speak in my favor.
Pavel Osipov of Sport-Express has interviewed Andrei Kirilenko on the phone after the game against Cavaliers, during which Kirilenko had eight points, seven rebounds, six assists, four steals and three blocks.
Here’s my translation:
- Does the back bother you anymore?
- Everything’s all right. I played today, after all, so this means my back is alright. But physically it was hard, yes. When you get out of game rhythm for a week and a half, it takes its toll.
- So you got a bit out of shape over this time?
- It’s not exactly like that. I just need to get into game rhythm once again. Today I just got winded after the first few minutes. Though after that I went back to normal.
- After your first game against Sacramento you said you were about to miss three or four days. But the rehab took 10 days. Why did it happen?
- Actually I always rehab for about eight to ten days when my back starts bothering me. If you let it slide a bit, then it takes no less than two weeks. So I rehabbed according to my normal schedule.
- Are you content with what you were able to do during your first game back?
- The team won, which means I’m content. Also, it was a fun game. I personally played well, though I could have been more active on offense. But, on the other hand, during this exact game it wasn’t needed.
- Don’t be so modest – you’ve been quite active. It was your first attempt at a five-by-five this season.
- I was surprised by only one thing – I thought I had more steals than four.
- Actually there were five listed in the boxscore, but after a few minutes since the buzzer they took away one.
- [Laughing] And I have counted about seven! Though it’s not important by now, anyway – I didn’t get enough blocks. Actually, coming back from the injury it’s very important to be very active, sometimes to even do extra. So I tried to be everywhere.
- Nobody had a five-by-five since January 2006 in the NBA. Is it something that you are capable of?
- Now it’s more difficult to block shots. During my first few seasons in the NBA it was easier. Now everybody knows it perfectly what I’m able to do, so they don’t drive straight to the hoop. More often they would just fake a shot or make a pass.
- Your whole career you were saying that team results are much more important than individual accomplishments. But still, what does five-by-five mean to you?
- It’s a nice thing, but not more than that. And it’s nice from the perspective that you make a lot of useful actions on the court. What it means, you took the ball away from the opponent no less than ten times. And, you helped to organize five or ten scoring plays.
- Your came back and Kevin Love had his best game of the season so far. Is that a coincidence?
- Absolutely. It’s just that Kevin can’t have many bad games. Today he started well from the very first minutes, and having caught that wave he played the whole game great.
- This season, all of Minnesota games have been close. But during the two of the last three – against Philadelphia and Cleveland – you managed to avoid a close ending. Can you say that the team gained experience, got better teamwork, became better?
- We are playing better with each other now. And when facing teams that aren’t among the best, we need to dominate. These two games prove that. Though we still had a slump in the second quarter when we let Cleveland tie the game. Other than that we pressured them all the time.
- What do Timberwolves lack right now? Or maybe someone? Ricky Rubio?
- Of course things will get easier when he returns. Ricky can keep the high tempo of the game. Right now Minnesota is playing well, but we miss the quick passes which shred the defense. Sometimes we have this problem: we get into set offense, make the first pass – to that same Kevin, for example, and then just start waiting. But when you have the ball, you need to pass it to each other quickly, make the opponents move, creating more opportunities for the shots. Rubio will help us greatly in this area. His playing style is similar to Shved‘s, but he’s more pass-oriented. Though Alexey can make a timely pass too.
- Rubio is already practicing with the team. When do you expect his comeback?
- As I heard, it should happen no earlier than mid-December. I think in about seven or ten days. Ricky is already in good playing shape. But then it takes some extra time for him to get comfortable playing with new teammates.
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Having played great during Russia’s 95-72 win over Great Britain (boxscore), Timberwolves’ new guard Alexey Shved had to answer a lot of questions in English in the mixed zone. But later, Nikita Zagdai of Sports.ru got him for an exclusive interview in Russian.
Here’s a quick translation:
I passed every ball to [Andrei] Kirilenko, because we’re a duo. All Minnesota players feel special! Getting ready for the next season. But to be serious, it just happened this way. I had the ball, and he was open. We got used to playing together in CSKA. He scores, I’m passing the ball. It works great.
Your line is phenomenal: 16 points, 13 assists and 6 rebounds. Did you know you were close to a triple-double?
I didn’t even think about it. Only learned about the assists from guys on the bench. And also felt it myself, that I have dished a lot. But I didn’t check it on purpose. I was thinking more about the need to win this first game. And the second one. These are the most important games for us right now.
It seemed like the game involved the guards more, they were always a center of attention. Should it be like this, or did it happen because of the opponent?
I wouldn’t say so. We have everybody playing good. Bigs on the pick-n-rolls… well, everybody. When we need to, we are feeding the ball to bigs – or to Kirya, like today. We try to do act depending on the situation. Before each game we discuss everything, watch and decide what’s the best thing to do.
13 assists – did you move to point guard full-time? Getting ready to run the team in Minnesota?
No, I wasn’t even told what position I would play. But I’m ready for anything. I’ll play whatever way they need me to. I’m ready for everything, and then whatever happens, happens. We’ll see.
Your team was one of the last to arrive in London. What did you get to see already, what surprised you?
Well, everything! This is my first Olympics, after all. Everything is new. The Olympic village, all the athletes living together. We were welcomed really good. It’s fun. I liked it a lot. And one time we managed to visit a mall. There were a lot of people and we took a lot of pictures. But we’ll have a day off, so we’ll go out somewhere and look around.
While Andrei Kiirlenko has yet to be officially introduced as a player of the Timberwolves, he’s already talked extensively about his new team during the interview with Pavel Osipov of Sport-Express (in Russian).
Here’s a quick translation that I made:
Are you happy with the way situation resolved?
Very. At last my free agency is out of the picture and I may concentrate on the Olympics, not having to think about anything that surrounds basketball.
Why did you prefer Minnesota over another NBA club, the Brooklyn Nets, which was also interested?
Actually, I had not only these two options in the NBA but a lot more. But I don’t think it would be right to discuss them now. I will only say that Timberwolves made a very good offer.
When did you personally decide that you were coming back to the NBA?
I have talked to CSKA president Andrei Vatutin a long time ago, and we both decided that we can’t delay this. CSKA couldn’t become a hostage of my decision. As previous season showed, I’m in great shape and I’m ready to play at the highest level. Yes, I felt comfortable in Moscow. But NBA is NBA. In order not to regret anything later, I had to go to America. And Vatutin understood me, for which I’m grateful. We’ve been friends for a long time and try not to let each other down.
How much time did it take to choose the best offer?
Less than two weeks. You can count it yourself, since the signing period started July 12 this year. I really didn’t want it to be made into some kind of a saga, when people sit and guess where would Kirilenko end up. So from the very beginning I was very active examining all the offers. I considered it important that not only I felt comfortable there, but also that the club would be interested in Kirilenko the player too. It worked out exactly like that with Timberwolves.
A few days ago another Russian player Alexey Shved has signed with Minnesota. Did it have any influence on your decision?
At the time when he signed, I didn’t think I would end up in Timberwolves at all; I was looking at a lot of options then. But, of course, an opportunity to become teammates with Shved was a plus for Minnesota.
How difficult it will be for you, to come back to NBA after a season in Europe?
I don’t think it’s going to be hard. After all, I didn’t leave NBA for such a long time – just some four or five playing months.
Can you say that your previous season was a lighter one? Taking into account that European schedule is not as busy as in NBA?
I agree, exactly because of the number of games. I have been spending less energy during last season and it helped me regenerate. Especially against the background of an NBA lockout season, when teams had to play back-to-back-to-back games.
Was it hard to leave CSKA?
It really was. It’s always hard to go away. But, I’ll say it again, I consider this decision the right one. Up until this moment not a single person whose opinion I value has said that it’s better that I stay. Everybody understands the situation right. Yes, deep inside they want me to play here in Russia, but they understand that I need to be there. Because the best league in the world is NBA.
ON FUTURE TEAMMATES AND COACH
Do you have great teamwork as a duo, Kirilenko – Shved?
We’ve played together at CSKA and the Russian national team. We don’t have any difficulties working together, so we’ll only have to get used to playing with other players. Of course, among those, Kevin Love stands out. He had an unbelievable breakout season last year and turned from a great player into a real superstar. So, there is a super-player, quite a few Europeans and talented young players who were drafted. And, T’Wolves also have a great coach in Rick Adelman. I really liked the way his Sacramento played in 2000’s, with Webber, Divac and Stojakovic on the roster. Anybody on that team could score, make passes and defend. You may want to call it total basketball, just like the way Netherlands’ national team played soccer.
Do you know Adelman in person?
It used to be just a nodding acquaintance. We’ve talked a few times. He’s a very nice person to talk to. By the way, during the contract talks he called me several times and described the way he sees my role on the team.
You are going to be the oldest and most experienced player on the T’Wolves roster. Is this a new thing to you?
Am I? I didn’t know that. On the one hand, I like it. On the other, you understand that time passes and you are becoming old [laughs]. But, that’s the way it is. By the way, I got used to that role during the last couple years – on the national team and in CSKA. And I don’t feel myself old at all, especially since my physical condition should allow me to play at the highest level for three or four seasons at least.
Are you ready to become a mentor for younger players?
I strongly dislike the word ‘mentor’, and I’m never going to become one. No matter how young the player is – if he got into NBA, then it means something. I will never be the one to point others what they should do. But I’ll be glad to give hints here and there – to give hints, not to teach.
There will be at least four European players on T’Wolves’ roster, and five foreigners. Is it a good thing or not?
It’s great when a lot of players are familiar with European style of basketball, because the level of basketball IQ in it is higher.
Do you know Ricky Rubio in person?
Just on a level when you say ‘hi’ when you see each other. But I guess, not it will be impossible to avoid getting to know each other [laughs].
Rubio is a point guard, and Minnesota’s game will depend on him a great deal.
Mainly, the schemes will revolve around Love, which of course is right. But in this situation other pieces of the puzzle are very important too, so that everyone is used according to what he can do. I trust Adelman’s talent; he will definitely find the right role for me. His previous clubs, Sacramento and Houston, had a lot of substance in their game.
You have said it several times recently, that it’s important for you to play for an NBA title contender. Is it possible with Minnesota?
You just try and guess… Sometimes a team as everything to reach The Finals, but then gets beat unpredictably in the first round. Yes, there are teams to beat in the NBA – last year’s finalists Miami and Oklahoma-City. But small forward positions on their rosters are filled not bad, to put it lightly – respectively by LeBron James and Kevin Durant [laughs]. As for tournament outlook for Minnesota, on paper it looks good. In the first place, thanks to the young roster, which gained experience during last season. At the very least, it’s realistic for this team to make the next step and reach playoffs.
Right now Olympics is the agenda of the day. But when are you planning to go to the States?
NBA training camps start in October. So, the month and a half available for vacation after the Olympics is a huge plus. After all, this summer I only had one week off. So I’m really glad that after the Games I’ll be able to spend some time with my family.