Andrei Kirilenko, a free agent who has spent his entire 10-year NBA career with the Utah Jazz, has signed one of the more unusual three-year deals in NBA history with CSKA Moscow, the Russian powerhouse for whom Kirilenko played before decamping to the U.S. The deal gives Kirilenko the right to return to the NBA one month after the lockout ends, a slight tweak on the usual opt-out clause most NBA players have in their overseas deals. But Kirilenko’s deal also gives him a similar out after each of his first two seasons with CSKA, meaning he has negotiated himself a bit of flexibility that most players either don’t have or don’t want.
The decision came down to CSKA and Spartak St. Petersburg, but the deciding the factor was that CSKA plays in the Euroleague, while Spartak plays in a lower division. And his deal is befitting of his status as Russian basketball royalty and of the level of play he showed for Russia in this summer’s EuroBasket tournament. Kirilenko looked like a different player in leading Russia to the bronze in that competition. He was in the conversation with Tony Parker, Pau Gasol and Bo McCalleb as the tournament’s top overall player, bringing the sort of all-around wizardry that had been slipping from his NBA game. He ranked eighth overall in Player Efficiency Rating in EuroBasket and cracked the top 20 in offensive rebounding rate, steal percentage and block percentage — classic nutty Kirilenko stat-stuffing. He passed and cut beautifully, as usual, and both Kirilenko and CSKA are right to wonder if he’ll just function better in European ball as he ages.
And Kirilenko is aging. He’ll be nearly 31 when the NBA season starts, if it ever does, and he posted the second-lowest PER of his career last season. He doesn’t block shots like he used to and his long jumper deserted him; Kirilenko hit just 34 percent of his long two-pointers last season, far below both the league’s average (around 40 percent) and Kirilenko’s recent marks (also around 40 percent). That may represent a random statistical blip, but so might his sudden transformation into an above-average three-point shooter. He shot 37 percent from deep last season, heady stuff for a career 31 percent shooter from three. The truth lies somewhere in between.