Andrei Kirilenko asks to be traded

Leverage and timing. Although Andrei Kirilenko – or the Ivan Drago clone, for you Rocky IV fans – generally speaks in broken English he seems to have no trouble grasping the importance of those two key English words, particularly when it comes to NBA negotiations. Kirilenko has apparently asked the Utah Jazz to trade him, or else, through a Russian blog entry. We say apparently because it isn’t 100 percent confirmed just yet whether Kirilenko is actually the one who penned the blog post. But really, what better time for Kirilenko to ask for a trade from his current team the Utah Jazz, than when he’s coming off a MVP performance at the recently concluded Eurobasket 2007 tournament, where he shot a scorching 54% from the field while averaging 18 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 1.8 blocks.

Kirilenko has been sulking all summer about the way his 2006-2007 NBA season with the Jazz played out. More specifically, throughout last season AK-47, as he is nicknamed, was upset with the way Jazz coach Jerry Sloan used his considerable skills. On the cusp of becoming a perennial all-star coming into the season, Kirilenko took a massive step back in terms of performance and the perception of his talent level last season while playing in the shadows of new Jazz stars Carlos Boozer, Deron Williams and Mehmet Okur. So, the Eurobasket tournament success was almost cathartic for AK. Following the finals win against a stacked Spanish club, Kirilenko only had the most glowing praise for the Russian team coach David Blatt. He went on to say that the tournament win was “the best achievement” in his career.

Drago throws a left jab, followed by a right hook…Jerry Sloan is reeling.

Andrei Kirilenko simply doesn’t fit the Jazz roster as it is currently composed. The presence of Boozer on the block and on the boards has left little real-estate for Kirilenko in the paint, while Mehmet Okur’s pick-and-roll play and outside shooting has relegated AK to being the fourth or even fifth offensive option. On the Jazz team as it is constituted now, Kirilenko is no more than a stand-still jump-shooter, which incidentally is also the weakest part of his game. The 4 years and $63 million remaining on his contract left the Jazz with no other option but to try make a square peg fit into a round hole, and thus the experimentation last year. But, judging from last season’s results it seems crystal clear that the Jazz, who made the Western Conference Finals without much help from AK, don’t need Andrei Kirilenko and Kirilenko can’t thrive on the current Utah team.

The Jazz should leverage the success Kirilenko had at the Eurobasket 2007 tournament and strike a trade while the iron is hot. The team is in dire need of a big shooting guard that can knock down the 3-ball on a consistent basis. We’re sure there’s a team out there that will gladly accept Kirilenko’s services, and contract, in exchange for such a player. The Jazz will also get the cap relief they desperately need to sign young stars like Paul Milsap and Deron Williams to long-term contracts.

Given Kirilenko’s seemingly saavy use of leverage and timing, if he isn’t traded by the start of the season, his message to Jerry Sloan and the Utah Jazz will be loud and clear: “I must break you!” And that distraction could be devastating for a young team like the Jazz going into the new season.

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