DURHAM, N.C. -- The compliments flow off their tongues without hesitation, describing the all-around skills of one of the Nets' biggest offseason pickups.
"Man, he's a great basketball player,'' Joe Johnson said Thursday after practice at Duke. "I've played against him all these years and he's a guy who can really do everything.''
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Paul Pierce said: "He's a special player.''
Added Deron Williams: "He just brings a different element to this team.''
They've got to be talking about The Big Ticket, right?
This wasn't about Kevin Garnett, the sage veteran who's quickly become the Nets' vocal leader. Johnson, Pierce and Williams were hurling adjectives to describe swingman Andrei Kirilenko, whom the Nets were able to pluck off the free-agent market for the midlevel exception of $3.18 million, leaving some in the league to cry foul.
At first glance, Kirilenko is a perfect fit for Jason Kidd's potential championship jigsaw puzzle. For all the hoopla triggered by the arrival of the former Celtics trio of Garnett, Pierce and Jason Terry, Kirilenko's signing could turn out to be just as huge, if not bigger.
As a versatile 6-8 forward who can serve as the centerpiece of the Nets' reserve unit or step into a starter's role in a pinch, Kirilenko may turn out to have immeasurable value. Particularly when the Nets go up against the likes of a Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James, given his defensive acumen.
"He's a guy that can take so much pressure off of me, Joe, Kevin, Brook [Lopez],'' Pierce said. "I mean, he's that player. He's a special player. He plays four positions on the court, he can defend four positions on the court, he can pass. He's a great luxury to have on your bench.''
The Nets probably still are pinching themselves about landing Kirilenko, who opted out of the final year of his two-year pact with the Timberwolves that was slated to pay him $10 million. He inked a two-year deal, with the second year a player option, figuring the Nets gave him a good shot at winning a title.
"I feel like I don't have a lot of time to stay at the same level where I'm at right now -- in running shape, kind of being everywhere -- because time is going down,'' said the 32-yearold Kirilenko, who also was intrigued by Brooklyn's Russian population. "I think I probably have two or three more years playing at that high level . . . It's a real opportunity to fight for the championship.
"I'm not saying to be a veteran and just sit on the bench and wave towels only and somebody is going to carry you.
"I can play a significant role and that's what I'm looking for. I don't want to just be a sit-in guy. I want to be a contributor to the team and I think there's a perfect opportunity for me here.''
Defensively, Kirilenko is about as good as they come. His long, lanky frame paired with his lateral quickness and fearless attitude give him the tools to try to make life as difficult as possible for whomever he's guarding. He said he studies his opponent's weak spots, looking to chase them into those zones or "run his butt all over the court,'' as he put it.
Sticking with them through screens. Making them change direction. Kirilenko said it's all about doing whatever it takes, especially when he's defending James or someone with his kind of scoring prowess.
"I always say that guys like LeBron, Kobe, Kevin Durant, Carmelo, you can't really guard them one-on-one," Kirilenko said, "because the whole team is working to get them the ball, and the whole team is playing for them.
"It's about how you can get into his scheme, how you force him to take the shots he doesn't want to take. Those things are very important.''
Kirilenko recalled a matchup he had with Durant in Minnesota a season ago.
"We won the game and I feel like I did a great job on Kevin Durant, but he scored 33 points,'' Kirilenko said. "But after the game, everybody is saying, 'Hell of a job, because you made him work, you made him earn those shots.' Even though he scored 33 points, you feel like you did your part.''
No wonder Kidd took that phone call during summer league action in July, causing that crazy firestorm after it went viral on the Internet. It was Kirilenko on the other end, wanting to know how Kidd planned on using him if he elected to sign with the Nets.
Good thing Kidd didn't simply swipe the ignore button.
"AK is big because he knows how to play the game,'' Kidd said. "Defensively on the ball and off the ball and [as a] help defender, his I.Q. of understanding where to be at the right time. We all know he can block shots being the three, being the four. So his I.Q. and his understanding on what it takes to win is big for us coming off the bench.''