Longtime Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko has officially returned home.
Agent Marc Fleisher informed The Salt Lake Tribune early Tuesday morning that Kirilenko has signed a three-year contract with professional Russian basketball team CSKA.
The Tribune reported last Thursday that Kirilenko was still talking with a few international basketball teams about signing a deal if the NBA lockout continued.
Kirilenko's contract with CSKA features an out clause that will allow him to return to the NBA as soon as the three-month work stoppage ends. In addition, the deal features an out at the end of every CSKA season.
"I am glad to be back to the team where I spent the years of adolescence. It’s a pleasure to have a chance to play for Russian fans, my friends, relatives," Kirilenko said in a statement released on CSKA's website. "CSKA has a very strong team, great coach, excellent players. It’s great when the highest goals are ahead of you. It’s especially interesting to play under the load of responsibility. I am sure that we are able to solve any task together."
Kirilenko, 30, added that all of the money he earns while playing for CSKA will be donated to charity.
"The [Kirilenko’s Kids] foundation will help the children hospitals and charity-schools, sport schools, sport veterans and the basketball players who became the disabled persons," he said.
Kirilenko was selected by the Jazz with the No. 24 overall pick during the 1999 draft. He made the All-Star team in 2004, and averaged 12.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.4 steals during 10 seasons (681 games) with Utah.
Kirilenko averaged 11.7 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists in 64 games (62 starts) last year for the Jazz. He started the season strong but was plagued by injuries down the stretch.
Kirilenko will become an unrestricted free agent once the 2011-12 NBA campaign begins. He said multiple times last year that Utah will be given first priority during free agency. However, he also expressed interest in playing for a pro Russian club during the lockout, as well as possibly ending his basketball career in his native country.
Kirilenko began his pro career in St. Petersburg, Russia. He made his debut during 1996-97 as a 15-year-old, becoming the youngest athlete to ever play in the Russian League, and later played for CSKA.
Kirilenko recently excelled for Russia during the 2011 EuroBasket Championship in Lithuania. He was one of the top players during the tournament, recording 18 points and seven rebounds as Russia downed Macedonia 72-68 in the bronze-medal game.
"My opinion: You should not take the NBA player during the lockout. If they can leave you, you don’t know what to expect. And only the [weak] teams can take this kind of step," CSKA coach Jonas Kazlauskas said on the team's website. "At the same time every rule has its exception, and Kirilenko is the exception. Andrei is the star of Russian and world basketball, he means for his country as much as Sabonis for Lithuania, Pau Gasol for Spain, Nowitzki for Germany. He grew here, he played for CSKA, for Russia."
Kirilenko joins current Jazz center Mehmet Okur and former Utah guard Deron Williams as players with ties to the small-market organization that have signed overseas during the lockout. Okur, who is also represented by Fleisher, recently joined Williams in Turkey.
Brian T. Smith
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