Utah's highest-paid player, at $15.1 million, Andrei Kirilenko has accepted (for now) a new role that suits his skills.
John W. McDonough/SI
Ronnie Brewer's 55.8 percent shooting from the floor last season led all guards and raised his career mark to 55.1 percent, the highest percentage ever among shooting guards with at least 100 games played.
Record: 54-28 (4th in West) Points scored: 106.2 (5th in NBA) Points allowed: 99.3 (13th)
And now, for something different: turning the biggest head case into a super sub
In Salt Lake City stability is valued. The longtime owner (LarryMiller) stands behind the longtime coach (Jerry Sloan), who stands behind thetime-tested offense (motion with back-picking by guards) that producesconsistent results (sustained excellence, though no championship).
The prevailing prove-the-rule exception is Andrei Kirilenko, a wiryeighth-year forward known as much for his insecurity, crying spates and sulkingas for his on- and off-the-ball defense, rebounding, shot blocking and passing.And as the Jazz gears up for what should be a contending season, there's anopportunity for more operatic behavior: Sloan seems likely to begin the seasonwith Kirilenko, a starter for 142 straight games, as Utah's sixth man.
"I would be happy with coming off the bench," Kirilenko, 27, told reportersearly in the preseason after Sloan had him doing precisely that. "It wouldn'thurt my ego at all."
Sounds good -- so far. In truth, Kirilenko could easily look at the role not asa demotion but rather as a nod to his diverse skills. "The second group reallylacks a creator," says backup forward Paul Millsap. "That's where Andrei wouldhelp a lot." Also, sixth man Matt Harpring's slow return from a right-ankleinjury (an infection developed after surgery in mid-June) created a hole tofill.
Kirilenko found out in Beijing how heavy the burden of being a front man canbe: He was the Russian flag bearer and leader of a team that lost four straightgames. So bringing AK-47 off the bench sounds like a solid stratagem, and hesays he's solidly behind it. Which means you'd better stay tuned. -- JackMcCallum
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