If Andrei Kirilenko isn’t wearing a Brooklyn Nets all-black-everything jersey next season, the beef from the borough can be thrown toward one team. And it won't be another NBA team like the Utah Jazz, Orlando Magic or even the Sacramento Kings, which have all been linked to the Russian small forward over the past eight months.
That distinguished honor belongs to CSKA Moscow, where Kirilenko signed last October and has represented Russia all the way to the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four that tips off next week in Istanbul, Turkey. While you won't see the CSKA-Panathanaikos semi-finals played on flatscreens or Barclays Center jumbo-trons 5,000 miles away, Nets season ticket holders and the anxious fan base might want to pay attention. That's because two teams' future will be at stake at the Final Four: CSKA Moscow and the Brooklyn Nets.
Over the course of this week, two people close to Kirilenko in Russia have said that a verbal agreement is in place for the 6-foot-9 small forward to return to the NBA with the Nets upon the conclusion of the Euroleague finals. While a hefty price tag is still unknown and timing of an official contract signing up in the air, both sources said it would likely be a three-year deal.
A third person based in Moscow and familiar with Kirilenko’s relationship with CSKA and the Nets -- thanks to the storied history between the 31-year old free agent and Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov -- confirmed friendly talks between the two-sides are on-going and appear imminent.
“It looks very real at this point,” the person said.
“Andrei spoke with Prokhorov before the decision to stay with CSKA, and he pretty much convinced Andrei not to sign with an NBA team until the end of the (Euroleague) season, when the Nets will have more money available (this offseason).”
All Kirilenko did this season with CSKA was solidify himself as the best player in the Euroleague despite the argument that Vassilis Spanoulis of Olympiacos is the league’s most valuable player. With the season Kirilenko has put together, a mid-season jump to New Jersey simply wouldn’t have been the wisest move. In Euroleague play, he averaged 14 points and 7 rebounds per game, while shooting 60 percent from the floor being named the Euroleague’s top defender.
On Wednesday night, Kirilenko kept the party going.
Thanks to his 19 points and 7 rebounds, CSKA beat Lietuvos Rytas in the VTB United League semifinal 79-72 and will now face Unics Kazan Thursday for the championship. It will be CSKA’s last game before taking on Panathinaikos next Friday at the Final Four. The winner advances to play the winner of Olympiacos and FC Barcelona Regal.
And this is where Kirilenko’s future with the Nets gets even more interesting.
Despite Kirilenko nearing a return to the league as some believe, coming back to play for CSKA next season is still very much a reality.
“I think he can get some attractive offers and the NBA looks like his first option -- it's like 80% right now, but I see the chance of him staying with CSKA too. It will also depend on how CSKA finishes in the (Euroleague) Final Four,” the person added.
“If Andrei sees that he is so valuable to CSKA, why wouldn’t he stay?”
A lot has changed since Kirilenko signed to play in CSKA and opted not to return to the NBA this season as offers from around 16 teams, according to his agent Marc Fleisher, floated around the open market for AK-47’s versatile services.
- He broke his nose in an ugly scene in November.
- He bounced back weeks later sporting a protective mask.
- He led CSKA to the Euroleague Final Four all while putting up numbers and honors any coach in the NBA would be proud to call upon.
Still, the Brooklyn Nets have more than a busy offseason ahead of them. Aside from trying to lock up free agent Deron Williams, there are the ever-present Dwight Howard talks swirling around, Gerald Wallace’s future with the team uncertain, and nine potential free agents to consider. Nets general manager Billy King has his work cut out for him, but Kirilenko’s piece in that puzzle sounds like it will fall into place before long.
Williams and Howard are the priority. That’s nothing new. But don’t think for a second Kirilenko isn’t part of the free agent equation for Brooklyn. He’s a very big part.
Is the ink dried on the contract? No.
Are the two sides engaged in on-going discussions and know the steps they’ll take if Kirilenko decides to return to the NBA once the Euroleague postseason comes to a close?
Go ahead and bank Prokhorov’s billions on it.
As another source put it: “Those who doubt Kirilenko and the Nets aren’t ready to move forward with a deal are only getting one side of the story. (Billy) King may be the one answering questions to the press in Brooklyn, but in Russia the one-on-one conversations carry a lot more weight.”
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