The Brooklyn Nets stunned everyone, getting Andrei Kirilenko to agree to a contract for the taxpayer mid-level exception of two years and just over $6 million, with the second year a player option. Considering that Kirilenko was expected to make over $10 million just next year if he didn't opt out of the final year of his contract with the Timberwolves, this is a huge coup for the Nets.
It's impossible to really grade the value of this contract like we would others. Kirilenko got other bigger offers, including from the San Antonio Spurs in a potential sign-and-trade scenario, but his agent told David Aldridge of NBA.com that he just wanted to play for a winning team. His relationship with owner Mikhail Prokhorov was also a plus, and no team could have matched that. In terms of value, Kirilenko's deal may be the biggest bargain of the summer, but it would be unfair to suggest that another team could have reasonably done more to secure his services.
Nevertheless, the commitment is huge for the Nets. Kirilenko quietly had a tremendous year for the Timberwolves, picking up right where he left off when he left the NBA for the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season. He was a key contributor as a cutter, offensive initiator and defender, filling in gaps and greasing wheels on both sides of the ball for Rick Adelman. He was deadly-efficient and contributed as an above-average passer and rebounder for his position, not to mention his individual and team defense. I'm surprised the Timberwolves made such little effort to bring him back, choosing instead to sign Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer and Chase Budinger. Those three cannot make up for all the things Kirileno did.
The Nets badly needed Kirilenko because he can keep the team's two old new starters -- Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett -- fresh. Finding a backup for both was a huge priority for Billy King, and now, he has Kirilenko and Andray Blatche to soak up time and lessen the load on Pierce and Garnett during the grind of an 82-game season. Garnett really should only play 25-30 minutes a game these days, and Pierce wore down playing too many minutes for the Celtics last year once Rajon Rondo went down. New coach Jason Kidd (that's still weird to type) will be able to get Kirilenko plenty of minutes regardless of whether he starts or comes off the bench. (The Nets may want to consider starting Kirilenko and bringing Pierce off the bench to give the second unit more scoring punch, though that'll be a tough sell with Pierce).
The only downside to Kirilenko's game is his poor perimeter shooting. The Nets were eighth in three-point attempts last year, but just 17th in three-point percentage. They've already lost their top three-point percentage shooter, C.J. Watson, and are replacing him with Shaun Livingston, who does not attempt many threes, and Jason Terry, who was not the same three-point threat last year as he was in the past. Kirilenko hit just 29 percent of his three-point attempts last season, which is probably one reason why the Timberwolves, in desperate need of shooting, let him go. Brooklyn will need to find more three-point shooting using the limited avenues they have. Perhaps more minutes for Mirza Teletovic, who was buried by P.J. Carlesimo, will help.
Regardless, signing Kirilenko is a huge win for Brooklyn. It's time to take the Nets seriously as a title contender.