Before the season began, before preseason, even before training camp, before Andrei Kirilenko had ever talked to Lionel Hollins about his role, he knew it was going to be different from under Jason Kidd the year before.
“I’m 100% sure it’s going to be different,” Kirilenko said before Deron Williams’s Celebrity Dodge Barrage on September 15th. “It’s all gonna be up to me. Come training camp, and preseason games, how you going to feel, how you’re going to look, and that’s how the coach can make a decision.
“So I hope I will do good,” he ended with a laugh.
He couldn’t have imagined this. Less two months later, Kirilenko has played in just 36 minutes over seven games, been rendered inactive, and is away from the team for their two-game road trip for “personal reasons.” It seems most likely that Kirilenko will never play another game with the Nets, with the team in preliminary discussions with the Philadelphia 76ers about a trade that would send Kirilenko & fellow Russian teammate Sergey Karasev away.
Kirilenko’s cost to the 76ers would be close to negligible — the team is under the salary “floor,” which is the minimum teams have to pay their players, and they could waive him while barely making a dent in their final bill.
But it’s intensified in Brooklyn by the Nets luxury tax bill, which isn’t as high as their record-setting insanity from last season but still tops the league, cruising towards a final bill of a tick under $130 million.
If the Nets rid themselves of Kirilenko’s $3.3 million, it’d shave off about $12 million at the end of the year. No small number for a player out of the rotation.
The 76ers know that, and they know that they’re the most natural partner for the Nets, since no other team has the *ahem* lack of commitments the 76ers have. That allows them to play hardball: they could ask for some second-round picks or cash to sweeten the deal on their part, or cash considerations to offset any added cost picking up Kirilenko would incur.
The 76ers are a barren wasteland of forgotten talent and D-League prospects, and their only appealing prospects are the ones the Nets have no shot at getting. The best thing they could do for the Nets is give them absolutely nothing; receiving no one in return would give the Nets a trade exception, which allows the Nets to take back a player in a future trade without having to match salaries. (The Nets have two other trade exceptions, but they’re much smaller and can’t be combined.)
Sending away Kirilenko and Sergey Karasev, the rumored pair to the 76ers, for nothing would give the Nets a trade exception worth $4.9 million. Since the Nets are less in the luxury tax zone and more president & tyrant of LuxuryTaxia, that’s a pretty big chunk of flexibility, and could net them a better player than the barely-NBA-eligible 76ers could send their way.
Another way to do it would be to complete two simultaneous trades, which would allow them to get a player back and still create a smaller exception.
Here’s an example: say the Nets trade Karasev and Kirilenko to the 76ers for a minimum player, like big man Henry Sims, which would help them bolster their weak frontcourt. They could structure it as two trades; the first a Karasev-for-Sims swap, and the second a Kirilenko-for-nothing swap.
That would give the Nets a trade exception for Kirilenko’s salary. If they want to make the exception bigger, they could also add Jorge Gutierrez, Markel Brown, or Cory Jefferson to sweeten the pot.
The Nets could search elsewhere for a Kirilenko move if they want to force Philadelphia’s hand. They could inquire with his old teams in Utah or Minnesota; they could look to another team under the cap, like the Detroit Pistons or Phoenix Suns.
Either way, it looks like they’ll end up with Kirilenko out the door.