By now, you know Andrei Kirilenko and the Nets are probably headed for a split. You know that you can’t remember the last time Kirilenko played (it was November 13th), the last time he made a shot (May 14th, during last year’s playoffs), or maybe even the last time he recorded a single box score statistic at all (November 7th, when he pulled down one rebound).
The point is: Kirilenko, who was a major cog in Brooklyn’s second-half successes last season under Jason Kidd, has not carved out a role for himself in Brooklyn, and with a personal matter keeping him from traveling with the team, it appears he’s played his last game with the Nets. It’s a quick fall from grace for the talented forward, who just last year spoke at length with The Brooklyn Game, highlighting his defensive acumen and keen sense for playing off the ball.
So what’s next for Kirilenko? The Nets will probably look to get him off their books before the end of the season, if only to save on the luxury tax. Here’s three theories about where he might end up:
1) Cleveland. With the Cavaliers coming to town tonight, it’s worth noting that Kirilenko has ties to coach David Blatt; Kirilenko has glowed about Blatt as a coach (Blatt coached him as the head coach of the Russian national team). Kirilenko was the youngest player in Russian Superleague history, and Blatt has called him the greatest Russian player ever.
The Cavaliers are on a six-game winning streak but still rank in the middle of the pack defensively to start the season; Kirilenko’s multi-faceted defensive game could help bolster Cleveland’s bench. It’s not clear what the Cavaliers might give up in such a trade. The optimist would argue that the Nets could push for embattled Cavaliers guard Dion Waiters, a blue-chip prospect that clashed with Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving and has struggled mightily to open the season. One optimist in Russia did just that, in fact (h/t NetsDaily for the translation), and Cavaliers beat reporter Sam Amico said it was his “gut feeling” that Waiters is at a crossroads of his career in Cleveland.
But it’s hard to imagine any team giving up on a top-5 pick that’s still constrained to the confines of a rookie deal just to trade for a 33-year-old forward with back issues and personal matters.
2) Utah. A no-brainer — Kirilenko spent his prime with the Utah Jazz and still has a home in the Salt Lake City area (though it was burglarized this summer). The Jazz have the cap room to take Kirilenko’s contract, and seven — count’em, seven — bonus second-round draft picks coming their way in the next three drafts. The Nets could probably pick and choose from their favorite two or three.
3) Retirement. This hasn’t been discussed enough as a potential option for Kirilenko, who has said before that he’s considered calling it a career at the end of this contract. One league executive expressed the idea to me that Kirilenko, who’s now 33 and has dealt with numerous injuries over the last two seasons, may not have the hunger to make it back into a rotation unless it’s the right fit. He’s certainly not hurting for money or accolades. His wife is pregnant with their third child, and Kirilenko may want to begin the next chapter of his life.