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Jazz: If Kirilenko's time winding down, he's content

Published April 9, 2011 11:48 pm

Jazz • If Utah career is winding down, he's content with results.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

No regrets. No what-ifs. No wondering about what could have been.

If this is the end for Andrei Kirilenko, there will not be any pain. Instead, the Jazz forward will look back proudly. Kirilenko gave his all, and he can live with the consequences.

From 2001 until the present, AK has worn only a Utah uniform. The Russian native became a man under ex-Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, evolving from a talented but naïve 20-year-old into a seen-it-all veteran. But after 10 seasons with Utah — years filled with 50-win campaigns, a trip to the Western Conference Finals and a mind-numbing run of endless injuries — Kirilenko could play his final game for the Jazz next week.

Even that appearance is a question mark, though. Kirilenko won't travel for the team's upcoming two-game road trip due to a bruised nerve in his left knee that has forced him to miss seven consecutive contests.

Asked whether he expects to suit up Wednesday against Denver for the Jazz's season finale, Kirilenko ended an uncertain answer with, "I don't think so. But, again, maybe."

"A great run" • On bad days, when Kirilenko's knees, or back, or ankles are flaring up again, the noncommittal reply is a microcosm of his uneven career. He has missed 22.7 percent of Utah's games since signing a six-year, maximum-contract extension in October 2004, sitting out 130 contests during the past seven seasons.

But there have also been countless good days, when Kirilenko is basketball's version of a work of art. Fast and athletic, powerful and invaluable, he is the ultimate mismatch: a shooting guard wrapped in a power forward's body, turning his gangly 6-foot-9 frame into a fantasy sports dream.

"He can come across — especially on the defensive end — and make plays. You can put the ball [in] his hands on the offensive side, and he can make plays there," Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said. "I think he's had a great run."

Kirilenko is possibly three games away from the end of that run. His contract with the Jazz ends this season, and he will become an unrestricted free agent this summer. The chances of his return to Utah are 50-50. His preference for re-signing with the only NBA team he has ever known is balanced by a business that is at the heart of the game he plays for a living. If Kirilenko walks away, it will not be because of bitterness.

"Salt Lake really became my home. … I always said it's a huge foundation, huge base, and really have tremendous moments of my life — not only basketball, but my [off]-the-court life here," Kirilenko said. "I will remember the Utah Jazz forever."

Impressive body of work • AK will be hard to forget.

He joined the organization when John Stockton and Karl Malone were running the court and Sloan was calling the shots. Ten years later, the trio are in the Hall of Fame, while Tyrone Corbin is now in charge.

Kirilenko has averaged 12.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.4 steals in 681 regular-season games. He has accumulated six playoff appearances, three 50-win seasons, three NBA All-Defensive Team selections and one All-Star berth.

"Definitely, [the] first two years is special," Kirilenko said. "It's new for me. Different environment, America as a country. … But then, [the] rest [of the] eight years, kind of the same. … I wouldn't say one year was worse or better, game-wise, probably. But as experience-wise, I think every year is giving you so much and every year is a different year."

But his sparkling numbers have often been offset by injuries — constant reminders of what the forward, and the teams that he played for, could have been if his body had held up. Kirilenko said that he's given all he could. His body is unique, and the game is unforgiving. His special frame has been a blessing and a curse.

"I'm not trying to get injured for a reason," Kirilenko said. "But it happens. And all you can do when it happens is try to get back as soon as possible."

As for the fans who have alternately praised and critiqued his career, Kirilenko only recognized the former. Jazz devotees are as special as his body. They showed up during Utah's 26-win season in 2004-05. And they have continued to pack the stands this year, as the Jazz struggled through adversity, fell from playoff contention and suddenly hit the rebuild button. If one memory stands out for Kirilenko, it's a crowd that roared every time he unleashed a no-look pass, slammed home a fast-break dunk, or drained a 3-pointer set up by the system.

"This is worth a lot," Kirilenko said. "Believe me, I know how it go[es] in a different situation, when all the fans, all the media, all the people around are killing you. ... But this thing is really something. So, I want to give them huge credit."

bsmith@sltrib.com

Andrei Kirilenko file

Position • Forward

Year • 10

Age • 30

Vitals • 6-foot-9, 235 pounds

Season stats • 11.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.2 blocks, 46.7 percent FG, 36.7 percent FT

Career • 12.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.0 blocks, 1.4 steals, 47 percent FG, 31.2 percent FT

Draft • No. 24 overall pick by the Jazz in 1999

Born • Izhevsk, Russia —

Deal's final year

Kirilenko signed a six-year, maximum-contract extension worth $86 million with the Jazz in October 2004. He is in the final year of the deal, which is set to pay him $17.8 million this season. —

Frail run

Kirilenko has missed 22.7 percent of Utah's games since signing the extension, sitting out 130 contests during the past seven seasons:

2004-05 41

2005-06 13

2006-07 12

2007-08 10

2008-09 15

2009-10 24

2010-11* 15

*Kirilenko won't travel with the Jazz for Utah's upcoming two-game road trip, thus increasing his total to at least 17 games. —

Jazz at Spurs

P At AT&T Center, San Antonio

Tipoff • Saturday,6:30 p.m.

TV • ROOT Sports, NBA TV

Radio • 1320 AM, 1600 AM, 98.7 FM

Records • Jazz 37-42, Spurs 60-19

Last meeting • Spurs, 112-105 (Jan. 26)

About the Jazz • Utah is 1-9 in its past 10 games and just 6-19 since Tyrone Corbin replaced Jerry Sloan as coach. … Center Al Jefferson is averaging just 12.8 points and shooting 36.5 percent from the field during his past five games. Corbin acknowledged Friday that Jefferson, who has started all 79 of Utah's games, might be dealing with mental fatigue. … The 11th-place Jazz are just two games ahead of Golden State in the Western Conference standings.

About the Spurs • Forward Richard Jefferson is averaging 10.9 points, his lowest total since his 2001-02 rookie campaign. Jefferson has started all 78 games for San Antonio, though, while his field-goal, free-throw and 3-point shooting percentages are better than his 2009-10 numbers, which marked his first season with the Spurs. … San Antonio has won three consecutive games after losing six straight. … The Spurs have won 60 contests for the first time since 2005-06.