MINNEAPOLIS — Andrei Kirilenko is opting out of the final year of a contract that would have paid him $10 million next season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, making him a free agent.
Kirilenko made the decision on Saturday, the deadline that was written into the two-year, $20 million deal he signed last summer, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press. The person requested anonymity because an official announcement has not been made.
In turning down the final year of his contract with the Timberwolves, Kirilenko is instead hoping to get a little extra security with a longer term deal when the market opens at 12:01 a.m. Eastern on July 1.
The versatile forward is coming off a rejuvenating year in which he averaged 12.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game for the Wolves, his best season in the league since 2005-06. The 32-year-old had more spring in his step after spending the lockout year playing at home in Russia, and he flourished in Rick Adelman's free-flowing system.
But Kirilenko also missed 18 games with assorted injuries, one of a number of Timberwolves players who missed significant time last season, the ninth straight year they have missed the playoffs. Kirilenko was largely responsible for the Wolves' dramatic improvement on the defensive end, with Adelman enjoying the luxury of being able to put him on every position besides center, depending on who was the biggest threat on a given night.
His ability to pass and move without the ball also made him ideal for Adelman's offense, and the veteran was superb in helping fellow Russian Alexey Shved make the transition to Minnesota for his rookie season last year.
New Timberwolves President Flip Saunders started getting an inclination that Kirilenko could opt out at least a week ago, and he made some plans for such a scenario.
The Wolves acquired swingman Shabazz Muhammad in a draft-night deal with the Utah Jazz on Thursday night in part to give them some depth at small forward. They also have Derrick Williams on the roster, though he has shown in his first two seasons to be a more natural fit at power forward and could be on the move himself.
The Wolves could try to negotiate a longer term deal — perhaps two or three years — at a reduced salary to bring Kirilenko back. Or they could use the $10 million they're saving on his contract to help pay restricted free agent center Nikola Pekovic, who is expected to get a significant offer on the open market that the Wolves will have the option of matching, and add a veteran shooting guard to a team that finished last in the league in 3-point shooting last season.
Kirilenko's decision could leave the Wolves with about $7 million to spend on free agents. O.J. Mayo, Kyle Korver, Kevin Martin, J.J. Redick and Marco Bellinelli all could be free agent targets for the Wolves. They also want to re-sign unrestricted free agent forward Chase Budinger, who would help fill in for Kirilenko.
If Kirilenko does go elsewhere, he will undoubtedly be a sought-after veteran. He proved last season that he still had plenty of good basketball left in him after four years of declining production led to his decision to play 2011-12 in Russia. And any team looking for a lockdown defender and willing passer to help make a playoff push could jump at the chance to bring him into the mix.
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