Friday , July 27, 2012 - 6:11 PM
Andrei Kirilenko is returning to the NBA, this time with Minnesota.
The Timberwolves found the versatile, tough-defending small forward they’ve been seeking to fill out their roster, and this one they didn’t have to try to pry away from a division rival.
Kirilenko’s signing of a two-year, $20 million contract was completed Friday after a three-team trade with New Orleans and Phoenix cleared the necessary space under the salary cap. The 31-year-old Kirilenko spent last season with CKSA Moscow after a 10-year run with Utah, choosing to play in his native Russia during the lockout and staying there once it ended.
"I think playing a more regular schedule in Europe helped his body. He told me he feels tremendous. He feels as good as he’s ever felt," Timberwolves president of basketball operations and general manager David Kahn said. "I think that, if anything, it was probably a small advantage for him to not play in the NBA."
Kirilenko, currently playing with the Russian national team at the Summer Olympics in London, won the Most Valuable Player and Best Defender awards in the Euroleague. In a statement provided by the team, he said he’s excited to be coming back to the United States, where he has dual citizenship.
"The Wolves have one of the best coaches in the league in Rick Adelman, and I feel my game fits in well with his style of play," Kirilenko said. "I also like the talent that Minnesota has on the team with star players like Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio."
All 10 of Kirilenko’s NBA seasons have been with the Jazz, who selected him with the 24th overall pick in the 1999 draft. He averaged 12.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 30.8 minutes per game during that time, including an All-Star 2003-04 season when he averaged 16.5 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.8 blocks and 1.9 steals. He has 62 games of five or more blocks and 14 games of five or more steals.
The Timberwolves signed restricted free agent Nicolas Batum to an offer sheet and also tried to swing a sign-and-trade deal with Portland, but the Blazers didn’t budge and kept the 23-year-old from France. So the Wolves turned to Kirilenko, a 6-foot-9 budding superstar at one point whose productivity waned over the last few years under the weight of a variety of injuries.
"We see somebody who can help us in a number of ways," Kahn said, "and frankly is the kind of player we didn’t have on our team."
With all of the dominant, score-from-anywhere-on-the-floor wing players in the league these days, the Wolves need to keep them in check.
"By no means am I suggesting that Andrei can shut them down, but I at least think now we can send somebody out there with the wingspan and the capabilities of guarding them a little bit," Kahn said.
That could’ve been translated as a slight against Derrick Williams, who plays the same position as Kirilenko, had an up-and-down rookie year and has found himself the subject of trade talks.
"Derrick should be challenged to seize what he wants, as opposed to it simply being handed to him," Kahn said. "There will be no limitations on Derrick’s ability to play here from a minutes standpoint, but it’ll be up to him to determine."
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