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Scott Howard-Cooper

Will this be the last season of an up-and-down tenure in Utah for Andrei Kirilenko?
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

Kirilenko's heart is in Utah -- and hopefully his future too

Posted Feb 8 2011 10:41AM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The conversation Monday evening turned to bread. Bread and old Russian proverbs. And coaches from downstate Illinois. And turning his back on money. But that's it. Bread and old Russian proverbs and coaches from downstate Illinois and turning his back on money.

But, really, it sounded so uncomplicated. Andrei Kirilenko, contemplating what could be the beginning of the end of his days with the Jazz, said he wants to play in the NBA next season, not overseas, and he wants to be in Utah. He said he would take less money compared to an opponents' bid to re-sign, he said it flat out and he said it without caring if the statement surrendered any leverage in future bargaining sessions.

"Definitely," Kirilenko responded, and he speaks a lot with that kind of certainty. "Utah is definitely my first choice. I've been in a lot of good years there. We'll see how it goes in the summer time."

On the night he contributed 10 points, eight rebounds and three blocks to the 107-104 victory over the Kings at Arco Arena after missing three games with a sprained left ankle, he was clear: The Jazz will get a hometown discount. Salt Lake City is as close to a hometown he has this side of Red Square, and he wants to play for Jerry Sloan. That's another magnet. Sloan has re-upped as coach and Kirilenko wants to play for Sloan, and now it's a matter of waiting to see whether Sloan returns for 2011-12 or retires and leaves the extension on the table.

Or at least Kirilenko was as clear as possible. There can be no February definitive, after all, for a free-agent process set to begin in July, or some later month or year when the labor issues are settled.

"All my friends are saying to me they can't imagine me playing somewhere else," he said. "They are used to me being in a Jazz uniform."

OK. But can you imagine playing somewhere else?

"No, not right now," Kirilenko said. "I can't even think about it. But we'll see. We'll see. In Russia we say, 'It's gonna be a day, it's gonna be bread.' The next day, you're going to think about it. Not right now."

The summer is the next day. He'll begin to seriously consider the next contract and then see where negotiations lead.

Maybe to Mother Russia. Kirilenko reiterated he would seriously consider going overseas if the lockout drags on with no end in sight, and a free agent could do so without the many complications of a player under contract. If he does go, the emotional lure of working again in his homeland, after beginning his pro career in St. Petersburg and Moscow, will have a much stronger appeal than playing in Western Europe.

Maybe to a new NBA destination. Kirilenko will obviously be taking a massive pay cut from the $17.8 million of 2010-11. How big of a cut Utah expects him to take will have a central role in whether he has a new team or not. He said he will take less to stay with the Jazz, but not necessarily make a terribly imprudent financial decision.

After all, depending on the length, his next contract could be the last of his career. And there will be outside offers.

Maybe he'll be right back in Salt Lake City. For all the frustrations through the years over mercurial play, especially with the bloated contract, Kirilenko remains a valued part of the lineup. He's the unquestioned starting small forward -- at least until lottery pick Gordon Hayward makes better progress. AK-47's performance the second half of last season was a major part of Utah's surge to the playoffs. As well, his laboring through a strained calf became a team-wide setback in the postseason that ended with a second-round sweep to the Lakers.

"We need a lot out of him," Sloan said. "He's one of the guys that help us in a lot of ways that people don't see. He's a good passer. He's kind of like a playmaker at times because he knows where the ball's going to go and where we want to go with it, and he's able to get it there. Not everybody has the ability to do that. He's been good for us that way."

There are reasons both sides want the relationship to continue.

"Definitely," Kirilenko said. "But, again, we'll see the whole picture. The whole team. The coach -- he stays, he wants to go. We don't know all those details. Who's going to be on the team, who's going to leave. It's very important because you want to be on a team who's winning more than losing and have a chance to go longer in the playoffs."

And he wants that team to be in Utah.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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