The mysterious Andrei Kirilenko: Jazz forward likes time alone with his books
There was no plane to catch, nowhere to go but back to the hotel, with the Jazz spending the night in Dallas after last week's loss. Almost as soon as the locker room was opened to reporters, however, Andrei Kirilenko was on his way to the team bus.
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan had just finished answering postgame questions, but Kirilenko already was dressed with a plate of food in hand. It has been that way for weeks, with Kirilenko regularly the first player out of the locker room.
"If you take a look, I've been the first guy for seven years," Kirilenko said. "My thing is I don't like to sit after the game in the locker room and wait -- wait for what? I like to dress up and just get to the bus and kind of analyze what we'd have done differently."
There's nothing upsetting him, according to Kirilenko. Both Jazz coach Jerry Sloan and general manager Kevin O'Connor express no concern, either, even if the perception is that the team's highest-paid player is disengaged.
"That's just A.K.," Deron Williams said. "We know he showers faster than anybody on this earth probably. It's like Superman, he's like in the booth."
"It's not like he goes around and doesn't talk to us all day," Williams added. "I have a great relationship with A.K. off the court. I don't think anybody thinks anything of it. We often talk about it, though, just how fast he gets out of there."
Kirilenko regularly is among the first to leave after home shootarounds and the first waiting for the bus on the road. He spends much of his time before games reading books at his locker, as well as on the bus after games.
Kyle Korver answered "never, ever" when asked if he had seen a teammate leave as quickly as Kirilenko after games during his years in Philadelphia.
"There's some guys that maybe got out of practice that fast, but never after a game," Korver said, adding, "He's a big reader. The guy reads. I don't know what kind of Russian spy novels he's reading, but he just gets into his books."
Sloan said he heard from his former coach Dick Motta about a player who would read the newspaper while the team was going over the scouting report. Talking about Kirilenko, Sloan said, "He's got to be who he is. I can't change that."
The perception would be as negative, O'Connor said, if a player spent 30 minutes in the trainer's room waiting out the media after games. He said he had no problem as long as a player was on time to games and noted that Kirilenko often comes early to shoot.
"That stuff is individual and whatever they want to do with it," O'Connor said.
This season, Kirilenko accepted a sixth-man role and flourished early before needing ankle surgery. Since returning, Kirilenko has averaged 10.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 29 games, but has shot 42.6 percent and played only 23.8 minutes off the bench.
Sloan said Thursday he planned to continue bringing Kirilenko off the bench in Jazz's first-round series against the Lakers, with Kirilenko set to relieve Ronnie Brewer in trying to slow Kobe Bryant.
The question beyond these playoffs is whether the Jazz need a greater locker-room presence out of Kirilenko, who made $15.1 million this season and is under contract through the 2010-11 season at $34.3 million.
"People get ready for the game different ways," Williams said. "A.K. can sit there and read a book. I don't read books. I listen to music. [If] that's how he gets ready, that's how he gets ready. You can't knock somebody's pregame routine or whatever."
Kirilenko's past frustrations have been well-chronicled, including his breakdown after Game 1 of the Jazz's 2007 first-round series in Houston. That was followed by a trade demand, but a meeting with Sloan and O'Connor helped ease tensions before last season.
Asked if he was convinced Kirilenko had bought in, Sloan said: "I always think he has. I've never felt like he hadn't. He's had some ups and downs like every player has ups and downs, and people expect a little more out of him, I guess."
Sloan also acknowledged the entire nature of playing in the NBA likely has changed for Kirilenko, now 28 and in his eighth season.
"When you're in this league for four or five years, it becomes a job and every player has to adjust to that," Sloan said. "The fun is for two or three years and everything goes well and people love you, but then expectations get to where we're supposed to be winning it all."
Andrei Kirilenko's numbers have dropped since he returned after the All-Star break from ankle surgery.