Andrei Kirilenko talks about his new team, Minnesota Timberwolves
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.