It was a big deal when the Brooklyn Nets landed Andrei Kirilenko, an all-star who had just opted out of a $10 million deal, on a deal worth just over $3 million. Nobody could understand why he walked away from so much money and the immediate assumption, because he and the Nets owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, are both Russian, was that there were some under the table dealings.
That, of course, is either untrue or unprovable. Either way it doesn’t matter. Prokhorov has already written it off as an old stereotype, but for the first time since the signing Kirilenko spoke with reporters and gave his side of the story.
“I can’t do anything with what people think,” Kirilenko said. “I’m coming from the facts. I can’t change it. I can’t control it. …Those type of rumors I can’t control. And I guess it comes from the history because of the Russian KGB. It makes it a little funny. What can I do?”
Kirilenko explained that he opted-out of the final year of his contract in Minnesota in order to sign an extension with them. However, between the time he opted out and the time it came to negotiate a new deal, Minnesota had lost interest. “I respect Flip Saunders decision, but he decided not to sign me for a long time. I can’t do anything about that,” Kirilenko said.
Kirilenko said that he has no regrets about the opt-out though and that playing in New York, which has a large Russian population, is always something that he’s wanted to do. A chance to win a championship is a cherry on top.
“Definitely I wanted to try New York for a long time but I’ve never been in that situation,” Kirilenko explained. “And right now it’s a great situation to try it. There’s about a 1.5 million people living in Brooklyn and Brighton Beach. I think it’s great idea to see the reaction from basketball fans.”
As far as his relationship with Prokhorov, it certainly didn’t sound like the two are good friends or anything like that even though he did play for him about 10 years ago in Russia. He simply said that he was happy when Prokhorov bought the team because it was good for Russian basketball. He also said that its great to have an owner who is so involved.
“It pays off,” Kirilenko said. “You can feel it when the owner is involved. You can take a look like in Dallas. Mark Cuban is so involved. He’s so emotional. Fans like that. They appreciate that.”
Kirilenko likely also gave up more playing time to sign with the Nets as he might have gotten a starting job elsewhere. He’ll certainly get his opportunities in Brooklyn though as he’s expected to be the first man off the bench and play a primary role in the team’s defense.