Andrei Kirilenko says pay cut was worth it for shot at title with Nets

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrei Kirilenko, of Russia, drives Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrei Kirilenko, of Russia, drives against the Oklahoma City Thunder. (Jan. 9, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

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Andrei Kirilenko had millions of reasons to stay in Minnesota . . . 10.2 million, to be exact.

But he opted out of the final year of his deal with the Timberwolves, which would have guaranteed him $10.2 million, and ultimately signed with Brooklyn for the mini-midlevel exception, which will pay him $3.18 million this season.

Taking a drastic pay cut to sign with a team owned by fellow Russian Mikhail Prokhorov caused some to raise eyebrows. Which is why, during Kirilenko's introductory conference call yesterday, there were questions about side deal conspiracy theories and even a mention of the KGB.

"Those type of rumors, I can't control," he said. "I guess it comes from the history because of Russia and the KGB . . . I guess it makes it a little bit funny. What can I do?"

Kirilenko, 32, said his initial intention wasn't to join the Nets but to sign long term with Minnesota. When new Timberwolves president Flip Saunders didn't express mutual interest, Kirilenko explored other options. He decided it was "time to take a shot to win a title," and the Nets offered the best opportunity.

"It's the first time in my career," he said, "I'm starting the season when I know we have a chance to win the whole thing."

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Another reason was Prokhorov, who owned a team in Moscow that Kirilenko played for as a teenager.

"When he got the team, I was very happy that finally a Russian owner has a team in NBA," he said. "I had those thoughts that one day I will be a Net."

He called the large Russian population in Brooklyn a bonus that "makes you feel like you're at home."

Kirilenko, a 6-9 small forward who averaged 12.4 points and 5.7 rebounds last season, will provide defensive versatility off the bench. He'll be reunited with former Utah teammate Deron Williams.

"He knows my best and weak spots and vice versa, I know his," Kirilenko said. "It's going to be great chemistry."

He also has no regrets about opting out.

"You kind of combine all the things together and try to find the optimal option for me, for my family," he said. "I understand the money is not that great, not what I could have made . . . But right now, it's really the best option possible to take a legit chance and win the trophy."

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