Jazz at 35 » Kirilenko makes debut, signals start of new era
Andrei Kirilenko has been an NBA All-Star. He's twice been named to the NBA all-defensive team. He made the all-rookie team, and many consider him one of the best all-around players in the league.
And he's not yet 30.
Kirilenko was the youngest European player ever drafted when the Jazz took him with the 24th pick in the 1999 draft. Because he played for Russia during the Olympics, the Jazz waited two years after drafting him before he played his first game on Oct. 30, 2001.
But it was worth the wait.
Kirilenko, a 6-foot-9 leaper with a long wingspan, immediately gave the Jazz an athletic presence they had lacked. The rookie's learning curve was steep. But he eventually made his mark as a unique, fill-up-the-boxscore talent whose emergence signaled the start of Utah's transition out of the Stockton-Malone era.
Certainly, Kirilenko has had his ups and downs -- most notably, a highly publicized breakdown during 2007 playoffs, followed by his demand that summer to be traded because of a rift with Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.
But that was then. Kirilenko gradually patched up his relationship with Sloan last season and has evolved into a dynamic sixth man for the Jazz. The occasional trade rumors still surface, but Kirilenko insists he's happy in Utah.
"I love the organization and I want to be here for my entire career," he said. "It's been very professional, and I've really enjoyed my time here."
-- Tony Jones
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