After spending a year dominating the domestic league of his native Russia for CSKA Moscow, former Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko has returned to the NBA. Despite rumours that fellow countryman and Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov was interested in signing him, he has instead joined the Minnesota Timberwolves on a 2 year $20 million contract. The Timberwolves will be fighting for a playoff spot for those two years, but the $20 million far surpassed the offers he was likely to get from the contending teams and that much money is too much to turn down.
$10 million a year for a 31 year old forward who has just spent a year away from the league is generous, and no doubt some will be in a rush to condemn the signing by embattled GM David Kahn. However, by all accounts Kirilenko was somewhat of a Russian-LeBron in their league, and though he is no longer the triple double threat of the past, he has for the past few years before his season in Russia quietly been a very reliable and efficient contributor. Without needing the ball in his hands a lot, he is a capable defender, passer and rebounder, and shoots at a very tidy clip as well. For comparisons sake, he posted a higher True Shooting %, and superior rebounding and assist marks to Nicolas Batum, who the Wolves had offered 4 years and $46 million to earlier in free agency. For right now, Kirilenko is not a bad consolation prize at all, and they are on the hook for just 2 years as well (if he doesn’t work out this year, he’s a valuable expiring contract as early as next season).
With their low payroll, the Wolves can afford to overpay a bit in the short term to fill out their roster without it having much of an effect from a cap flexibility standpoint (especially with it being only a 2 year commitment). In the meantime, they add a proven veteran finisher who knows how to play and will likely be on the receiving end of some dazzling Ricky Rubio assists in transition once he recovers from his knee injury. If the goal is to try and make a run at the playoffs with smart gambles while maintaining some future flexibility, Minnesota haven’t done too shabby a job at all.