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Here’s to #47 one day hanging from the rafters at the ESA

January 23, 2010

A few days late with this, but here goes…

Guess what? I’m absolutely thrilled that most everyone considers AK overpaid and subsequently untradeable. I know not everyone agrees with me that he is a difference-maker or the missing piece, and it does worry me that Andrei becomes an expiring contract next season (yay for $17.8 million!). Whether it’s because of his bigger stat lines recently or something else, AK has become somewhat of a hot topic lately.

Fanhouse did a fantastic piece on AK recently, in which he said that not only is his priority to stay with the Jazz, but that he’s willing to take less money to stay in Utah once his contract expires. AK also talked about the mental adjustment he needed in understanding his new role on the team (and let’s not forget, the NBA landscape is littered with guys that were/are incapable of making that adjustment):

“Definitely the Jazz is going to be my priority,” Kirilenko said.

“I understand my value is going to be a little lower than it is right now. I’m not worried about that…Money has never been an issue. It’s good to have a good contract and money. But my priority is basketball.”

“When I signed the contact for the Jazz, I was feeling at the time I was a key player,” Kirilenko said. “Things change. … After we got Deron and Booz, they’re really the guys who are the forces on our team. I kind of had a tough time a few years ago converting myself. … I didn’t understand how to deal with it. I have learned to adjust to the system. I have my role…I want to help [the Jazz] and make it work.”

Andrei further told the desnews today:

“After talking a lot, we think Utah is the best choice for us, because our kids are growing up here, going to school, we’ve settled everything, we know what to expect.”

I’ve written a number of AK appreciation posts in the past. All I want to say now is that he has played an enormous role in our recent mini-win streak. He may be the second-oldest and highest-paid player on the team, but he’s also the first one to dive for a loose ball. The only player you ever see with gauze pads on his knees is AK, because he is out there hustling his ass off.

The team also reaps the benefits of his maturity. We forget how young Deron is because of how he plays and the things he does on the court, but a couple of bad calls and he’s often taken out of the game. AK provides a steadying hand and you rarely see him flustered or frustrated. He’s always locked in and focused on the big picture rather than a BS foul or call. He doesn’t pout about his minutes or whether he starts or comes off the bench. He doesn’t question why he sometimes plays 20 minutes and sometimes 36. He doesn’t complain about whether he’s being played at the 3 or the 4. Jerry has always said that he sticks to a set substitution pattern because he believes players perform better if they know exactly when they’re going to play.

The exception to the rule seems to be AK, and yes, I can understand Jerry wanting to take advantage of AK’s versatility. Along the same lines, however, I think fans and maybe even the coaches should give AK a pass (no allusion intended) on expectations of consistency since his playing time is as inconsistent as it gets (all right, that’s not true, there’s Nate Robinson and everyone on the Warriors)…for the Jazz then. We all saw what happened when Jerry said that he was thinking about bringing Boozer off the bench. Deron has been plenty vocal about how he is a point guard, not a shooting guard. Regardless of how Jerry utilizes him, AK just does the best job he can, no complaints, sideshows, or drama.

Best of all, he helps improve his teammates’ fashion sense. :-)

Best of all, he’s committed to the Jazz and locked in in wanting to help the team win. Even though he was processing the adoption of his daughter, he spent time during the summer at the Peak Performance Project and working with a nutritionist so that he could gain bulk/muscle mass like the coaches and management asked him to.

After the game at San Antonio, Boler asked AK, “Does starting fit your game, Andrei? I know it’s been discussed time and time again. You’ve tried both sides. Which fits your game? It looks like starting.”

AK answered, “When we’re winning the game, that’s what fits our game. Starting the game, we start winning it, that’s good. Coming off the bench, we’re winning the game, that’s good too.”

Way back when when Masha was pregnant with their first child, I remember Andrei saying that if the baby was a boy, he wanted to name it “Utah” and if it was a girl, “Jazz” (but that his parents weren’t on board). While that was before Summer of Drama ’07, and while I’m still not necessarily on board with every jumper he takes (shoot in rhythm!) I still like to think that Andrei Kirilenko and the Utah Jazz will be tied to each other forever. Here’s to #47 one day hanging from the rafters at the ESA. As BBJ once said, who can ever wear #47 again in Utah?

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