New Timberwolves forward Andrei Kirilenko is back in the NBA after a season away and apparently feeling like he is back home, even though he spent his first decade in the league in Utah, not Minnesota.
"I really feel like I belong here," he said.
Kirilenko once felt like that with the Jazz, after he parlayed an All-Star Game appearance at age 23 into an $86 million contract that was supposed to make him the franchise's new face after John Stockton and Karl Malone retired.
But that was before Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams blossomed in the team's offense, before Kirilenko played out the final years of that six-year deal with a whopping salary but a diminished role.
Now, after a season playing back home in Russia, he says he knows just where he fits at age 31 on a team that's all Kevin Love's.
He is the savvy veteran signed to a two-year, $20 million contract who gives the Wolves, even at age 31, perhaps their most versatile defender and has played the game all his life just the way Rick Adelman has lived to coach it, with motion and selflessness.
Kirilenko always admired Adelman's Sacramento teams from a decade ago, particularly after the Jazz played the Kings "like 20 times" in preseason, regular season and consecutive playoff series in 2002 and 2003.
"Those teams were known by very good movement of the ball and a lot of, a lot of motion," Kirilenko said. "And I've always been a guy who likes the energetic style of the game: Running, moving, pass, cut and I think this team is going to be very, very good fit for me. It's very, very good basketball for me."
Adelman installed relatively little of his famed "corner" offense last season, partly because of an abbreviated December training camp caused by a labor lockout, partly because he had personnel who stared rather blankly at him when he philosophized about the merits of a backdoor cut.
In Kirilenko, he has a proven, willing practitioner of such things who also -- at 6-9 and springy -- can play both forward spots.
"He knows exactly who he is," Adelman said. "He has been doing this so long. Just watching him, I can't tell you how many times he has back-cut our guys and they still can't tell what he is going to do the next time and they still haven't figured it out. But he's so quick and he's smart and he's long and he just plays. He doesn't take plays off."
Kirilenko will play his first game in a Timberwolves uniform in Wednesday's preseason opener, a meeting with Indiana at North Dakota's Fargodome in which he, Love and Brandon Roy are all expected to play measured minutes while Adelman will give more playing time and opportunity to less-proven players such as Derrick Williams, Alexey Shved and Chase Budinger.
Fellow Wolves newcomer Shved plays with Kirilenko on the Russian national team that won Olympic bronze last summer in London. They were teammates on CSKA Moscow last winter. And Shved has admired Kirilenko since Shved was a kid, and he has the photo of him holding a signed No. 47 jersey when was 11 or 12 to prove it.
"For sure, he's very talented player, best Russian player," Shved said. "He play here [in the NBA] 10 years. He knows the style. He knows when he needs to go cut, when he needs to stop and take the three-point shot. He's big for a [small forward]. He's going to play [power forward, small forward and shooting guard]. He's important for the team, I think."
That's why the Wolves offered that big salary after they failed to land Portland's Nicolas Batum with a big free-agent offer more than double than what they paid Kirilenko.
Kirilenko agreed foremost for 20 million reasons. But it didn't hurt that the Wolves flattered him with their overtures and also offered the chance to play for a promising young team in Adelman's motion offense. Kirilenko's sons can play hockey in Minnesota, too.
"It feels right," Kirilenko said. "I'm not having any problems getting along with the guys, everybody is being so helpful. Kevin's doing a great job as the face of this team, being friendly but at the same time showing good example for everybody. It's the right place for me."Note
• Adelman said he expects to play Shved a lot in the preseason, and probably particularly at point guard on Wednesday if Luke Ridnour's back spasms aren't better. Ridnour's back bothered him during Saturday's practice and he didn't participate in the contact part of Monday's workout at Target Center.