Zgoda's NBA Insider: Kirilenko lightens load

  • Updated: February 23, 2013 - 8:49 PM

A fixture for the Russian national team for over a decade, the Wolves veteran wants more family time.

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Andrei Kirilenko

Photo: Jim Mone, Associated Press

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Timberwolves forward Andrei Kirilenko turned 32 last week, an occasion he celebrated with a trip to Las Vegas over All-Star Weekend before he finalized a decision that confirmed time indeed is moving on.

Kirilenko told the Russian basketball federation that, barring a change of heart, his international playing days are done.

"It is time," he said.

It's time for him to devote his summers to watching his three children grow up.

It's time for what he calls the "next generation" of Russian basketball to take over, one that could be led by Wolves teammate Alexey Shved.

"It's not connected to playing time, I'm not tired, I'm not tired of playing for the national team," he said. "I want to be a better dad."

He played in his first Olympics in Sydney in 2000 and has been the face of Russian basketball ever since then, representing it in European, World and Olympic championships -- and accompanying qualifying events -- nearly every summer since then.

"It's kind of a dilemma: Going around the globe, playing basketball, have fun," he said, "or spend time with your kids and have fun and see how they're growing."

His children -- two boys and a girl, ages 3 to 11 -- won out.

"I was thinking in summer I don't have enough time with my kids," Kirilenko said. "My wife and kids, I want to be around them. I don't want to be dad who's spending two hours and then you don't see your kids. It's a hard decision.

"You want to be around them at this kind of age when they're growing, when they start playing hockey, start playing basketball. You want to see the improvement, not only in sports but in them, the person."

Kirilenko said he has contemplated this decision for the past two or three years, but concluded it was time after he led Russia to a bronze medal at the London Olympics last summer.

This summer would have brought the European championships.

"If they played only a week, I'd be there," said Kirilenko, who can opt out of the remaining year of his two-year, $20 million NBA contract this summer. "But to be professional, you have to have month, two months before tournaments to get the preparation. That's what's killing. I will do my best to help national team any way I can, but I can't give so much time every summer.

"I want to be with my family a little more. I think I already gave a lot, playing 12 years on the national team."

Kirkilenko said the Russian federation president has extended him an open invitation to return if he changes his mind. He says he considers his decision a retirement, but admits he doesn't know how he'll feel about it two or three years from now.

He will be 35 when the next Olympics roll around, in Brazil in 2016.

"It's always good to know you can come back if your emotions change," he said.

Kirilenko said it's time for that next generation now. Russian basketball had Sergi Belov in the 1970s, Arvydas Sabonis in the 1980s and '90s, and now it is time for others, including Shved.

"I think so," Shved said. "Everybody want A.K. to stay on national team, but he played all the time for Russia. He gave everything for us. He wants to stop and stay with his family. That's his choice, and that's really good because he gave us everything."

SHORT TAKES

Win one -- or a bunch -- for Buss

Kobe Bryant ended his eulogy at Thursday's private ceremony that remembered Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss by issuing a challenge to all his teammates during a season in which they are searching for something to save it.

"I encourage all of you to look around the room," he said during a quirky memorial service in which Lakers greats Jerry West, Shaquille O'Neal and Phil Jackson all spoke at the Nokia Theatre across from Staples Center. "Look at the greatness of one man's vision, look at the players that are here, coaches that are here: We have one thing in common, we all believe in Dr. Jerry Buss. We are playing for something bigger than ourselves, bigger than a single season, playing for the memory of a great man, Dr. Jerry Buss."

Just wait until the draft combine

Houston's separate trades with Sacramento and Phoenix -- two of the few made before Thursday's league deadline -- brought the Rockets a top-five lottery talent in forward Thomas Robinson and shed salary to provide more cap space they can use to make a run at perhaps Dwight Howard or Josh Smith this summer.

Rockets coach Kevin McHale isn't impressed, not yet at least.

"I've never seen Cap Room score a basket yet," he told reporters. "I've seen old Cap and his last name is Room. I've yet to see him put a hoop in, haven't seen him block a shot, haven't seen him get a rebound yet. But when Cap Room starts putting up numbers, we should be in great shape."

Looking to team for comfort

San Antonio's Stephen Jackson returned to the team Thursday after taking a three-game leave after his wife, Renata, lost their first child she had been carrying for 6 1/2 months.

"I'm as good as I can be," he told the San Antonio Express-News before Thursday's game in Los Angeles against the Clippers. "I'm happy to be back with the team. I need to be back with the team, just for my own sanity. Basketball and being around these guys helps me a lot, so it's definitely something I needed."

WOLVES WEEK AHEAD

Sunday: 2:30 p.m. vs. Golden State (FSN)

Tuesday: 8 p.m. at Phoenix (FSN Plus)

Thursday: 9:30 p.m. at L.A. Lakers (TNT)

Saturday: 9 p.m. at Portland (Ch. 29)

Player to watch:

Steph Curry, Golden State

Sorry to remind you again, Wolves fans, but ... just think of your team with this guy AND Ricky Rubio on the floor together.

VOICES

« HIS ARM LOOKS LIKE MY HEAD. »

         

Wolves guard Ricky Rubio on hulking teammate Nikola Pekovic

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