Lockout could send AK packing
Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko plans to return to his native country if the NBA locks out its players when the collective bargaining agreement expires June 30.
Kirilenko initially said during the early part of the 2010-11 season that he would consider playing in Russia if a lockout occurred. But he acknowledged at the time that he would have to weigh his health and long-term future with a desire to return to his homeland. However, the 10-year Jazzman said Wednesday prior to tipoff against the New York Knicks that there is no question he will cross the globe to play basketball if the NBA has a widely predicted work stoppage.
"If lockout happens, I will definitely go back to Russia and play on Russian team," said Kirilenko, who added that his new United States citizenship has no bearing on his basketball-related future.
Jazz center Mehmet Okur returned to action Wednesday, scoring 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting during Utah's 131-125 victory against the Knicks.
It was Okur's smoothest and most efficient performance of the season, and he mirrored a Utah team that prized open looks and multiple passes above one-on-one play.
Okur had missed the Jazz's previous six games due to a lower back strain. He said during a Wednesday morning shootaround that his time would be limited against the Knicks, predicting that he would only play 5-6 minutes. Okur earned more than 12, and he was equally impressive during the first and second halves.
"I thought he handled himself very well," Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. "I thought he was back to where he was just before his back started bothering him."
Okur has played in just five of Utah's 39 games this season, dealing with left Achilles tendon surgery, a right ankle sprain and back pain.
He began to regain his form during a two-game stretch from Dec. 27-29, when he scored 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting. But his 10-point outing Wednesday against the Knicks was the closest he has come all season to approaching his potential. The performance followed two strong days of practice, during which Okur's health improved and his optimism increased.
"Watching him practice and go through the problems he's had, I was happy for him," Sloan said.