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Kirilenko: Nets motivated to prove doubters wrong

Nets forward Andrei Kirilenko looks on against the

Nets forward Andrei Kirilenko looks on against the Detroit Pistons in the second half of an NBA basketball game at Barclays Center on Friday, April 4, 2014. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Paul Pierce is gone to the Wizards, meaning the Nets lost the guy who swatted Kyle Lowry’s potential game-winning floater, preserving their scintillating Game 7 series-clinching victory over the Raptors in the first round.

Kevin Garnett, who turned 38 in May, will be coming off his worst statistical season since his rookie year in Minnesota.

They’re counting heavily on the production of Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, both of whom are recovering from surgery and are working to get back into the swing of things.

Their top offseason signing -- Bojan Bogadanovic -- will need time adjusting to the NBA game after coming over from Europe and sliding into the mix.

Questions abound for the Nets heading into the 2014-15 campaign, leading more than a few people to believe Brooklyn won’t be as good and could take a step back. Particularly with the potential shuffling of power in the Eastern Conference.

So will that serve as a bit of motivation for the Nets, who suddenly have become an afterthought to some?

“Of course,” Kirilenko told Newsday in a phone interview from Africa, where he’s participating in the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders program designed to spread the game globally and promote community outreach abroad. “If that’s how they talk, we’ve got to prove them wrong. We did a great job of playing Toronto in the first round, kind of showed great character. I think a lot of guys on the team, younger guys like Mason [Plumlee], they kind of got that experience.

“And right now, we are looking forward, the team is staying strong and everybody is looking forward to starting next season, make the playoffs and go as far as possible.”

Kirilenko, who missed a total of 37 games last season and sat out 26 fighting back spasms, said his back “hasn’t bothered me since December.” After an admittedly frustrating first season in Brooklyn riddled with injuries, fluctuating minutes and a handful of DNP-Coach’s Decision listings next to his name in the box score, he’s eager to get another crack at making things happen with the Nets

“I just look at it as we had a great roster and understand the coach, he plays the five guys he’s supposed to play and kind of forgets about everybody else," said Kirilenko, who exercised his second-year option in his contract in June. "But it was understandable. We had a great, great starting five, which was good for our team and the players. At first, I didn’t like sitting on the bench for the majority of the game and playing like 7-10 minutes. But again, I made my decision and I’m not regretting it.

“We had the chance to kind of be one of the favorites. We didn’t finish well, but in terms of experience, I still think we have a great team. We lost Paul, we don’t know what’s going to happen with KG. But Brook is back, and he’s healthy and is a huge, huge part of our team. Joe Joe (Joe Johnson), is always great. Deron got surgery on his ankles and he’s going to be back by training camp. So it looks good right now. Everybody is getting healthy before the season.”

Kirilenko, like everyone else around the league, will have some interest in keeping tabs on what’s happening in Cleveland with the Cavaliers. But Kirilenko’s curiosity won’t simply stem from the intrigue surrounding LeBron James and his new sidekicks in Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.

Cavs coach David Blatt, who made a name for himself in Europe before getting hired in June, coached Kirilenko on Russia’s national men’s basketball team. So Kirilenko knows all about him and is confident Blatt’s approach will translate here.

“David is familiar with my style because he’s the coach of the national team, and right now he’s the coach of LeBron,” Kirilenko said. “So I want to wish good luck to David -- not against the Brooklyn Nets -- but the rest of the league.

“I think he’s got a great future. I was surprised that he went to the NBA only now. He should have been in the NBA a long time ago, because he’s the new generation of coaches who understand the game.”

New York Sports