Wolves' Plan B plays out as Kirilenko is landed

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 28, 2012 - 12:10 AM

David Kahn said the ex-Jazz standout was his next move at small forward all along.


After 10 years with the Utah Jazz, former NBA All-Star Andrei Kirilenko decided to stay in his native Russia last season rather than return to the NBA once the lockout ended. He ended up being named the MVP of the Euroleague.

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The Timberwolves finally accomplished what they have been trying to do since NBA free agency began: Acquire a versatile wing player who could take flight in coach Rick Adelman's scheme.

A complicated process was completed Thursday when Wes Johnson and a protected future first-round pick went to Phoenix in exchange for three second-round picks. That gave Wolves President of Basketball Operations David Kahn room to sign Andrei Kirilenko to a two-year, $20 million deal, with a player option for the second season.

"He's a very long wing player," Kahn said of the 31-year-old Kirilenko, a veteran of 10 NBA seasons, all with the Utah Jazz. "He hits all the boxes we were looking for, finding a player we didn't have on our roster."

It's significant Kahn said that, considering he moved Johnson -- a wing who was the fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft -- in order to facilitate this move. Johnson represents yet another Wolves first-round draft pick who has struggled to fulfill his promise.

There is no question the Wolves have substantially reconstructed their roster this summer. The team traded for Chase Budinger and agreed to terms with Brandon Roy, who will come out of retirement to play for the Wolves this fall. Kirilenko, who was the MVP of the Euroleague last season for CSKA Moscow, is another key addition.

"Our roster, to use a word, is versatile," Kahn said. "We have a number of players who play more than one position. If [Adelman] wants to go with a bigger look, he can go big. If he wants to go with a smaller look, he can go small. ... Our wing players needed to become more capable of making plays, being better ballhandlers."

If Kirilenko can stay healthy, he provides a big upgrade on the defensive end. And Kahn is confident Kirilenko will stay healthy, and that having missed the condensed NBA schedule last season might have been a "blessing in disguise.''

Kirilenko clearly was Kahn's Plan B once it became clear the Wolves wouldn't be able to pluck restricted free agent Nicolas Batum out of Portland. Kahn said the team had Kirilenko No. 2 on the board at small forward, behind Batum.

In an interview with Russian media outlet Sports-Express, Kirilenko said he admired Adelman's coaching style and had talked with Adelman several times. He said he was eager to play with Kevin Love who, he said, had "turned from a great player into a real superstar."

"On paper it looks good," Kirilenko said of the Wolves' potential. "In the first place, thanks to the young roster, which gained experience during last season, it's realistic for this team to make the next step and reach the playoffs."

But Johnson's departure also pointed out the difficulty the Wolves have had getting highly drafted prospects to live up to their draft position.

"It's disappointing, but I also wouldn't say it's crippling in any way to us moving forward," Kahn said. "There wasn't a way to do this but for the face we had to trade some players and so things happen for a reason."

Kahn admitted it appeared Johnson's confidence was shaken last season. Acquiring Kirilenko also put pressure on forward Derrick Williams -- last year's second overall pick -- to make strides.

"It challenges Derrick to seize the moment," Kahn said. "In this environment, Derrick should feel challenged, and I hope he accepts the challenge to seize what he wants as opposed to it just being handed to him. There are no limitations on Derrick's ability to play here, from a minutes standpoint. It will be up to Derrick to determine that."

After Roy, and likely center Greg Stiemsma, are introduced next week, Kahn said the Wolves would take a break for at least a couple of weeks. Kahn said there was a good chance the team has done most of the offseason heavy lifting, though he did say there had been discussions with another team about what could be a "significant move." He wouldn't say how likely that would be.

With little salary cap space left, the Wolves' options are somewhat limited. Kahn also said he was waiting to make sure all three of the team's Olympians -- Love and Russians Kirilenko and Alexey Shved -- emerged healthy from London.

Finally, Kahn was asked about Love indicating his pleasure with Thursday's moves.

"I read the assistant general manager's comments just a moment ago," Kahn joked. "I'm very pleased that he's pleased."

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