Tip-Off Timer: The Decline of AK-47
Five years ago, Andrei Kirilenko was considered a new kind of NBA player. Tall, skilled and athletic, Kirilenko had a way of impacting games in a way few other players could.
Not only did he score and rebound, but Kirilenko was also one of the best weak-side shot-blockers in the league. And his length and quickness on the perimeter bothered smaller players.
His game was unique and so was the No. 47 jersey he wore. So effective and intriguing was Kirilenko that the Utah Jazz rewarded him with a six-year, $86 million contract before the start of the 2004-05 season.
Didn't seem like a terrible idea at the time. Kirilenko was only 23 years old, had just been an all-star and was a member of the All-Defensive second team.
The Jazz projected Kirilenko to be their cornerstone and the plan was to build around him. That was then ... when all the talk was about Kirilenko's game. But this is now ... when all the talk is about Kirilenko's contract.
To be sure, Kirilenko now owns one of the NBA's worst contracts, right up there with the Jermaine O'Neal, Eddy Curry, Peja Stojakovic -- take your pick or throw out a few more.
In 2003-04, Kirilenko was coming off a very nice season. He averaged 16.5 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 2.8 blocks per game. But he's never equaled his scoring, rebounding and steals stats since.
Back then, Kirilenko was a starter for the Jazz. Last season, he came off the bench and averaged only 27 minutes per game, his lowest figure since his rookie season.
Things have been so difficult in Utah for Kirilenko that two years ago he threatened to walk away from the remaining $63 million of his deal and sign with a team in Russia.
Said Kirilenko at the time: "For the past two years, I've been going on the court and acting like a robot. When I signed my contract the future looked completely different -- I thought I would play, win and get pleasure from it. Unfortunately, this is out of the question now, even in successful games. This is the worst feeling."
Certainly, Kirilenko's strained relationship with coach Jerry Sloan has been a factor in his declining play in recent years. Kirilenko just isn't Sloan's kind of player, and that's apparent.
Kirilenko will be just 29 years old when his contract expires in Utah, and he's certain to head elsewhere. When he does, it will be interesting to see whether or not he can recapture part of the player he used to be.
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