NEWARK, N.J. — Even though he passed the test, took the oath and did everything else required to become a U.S. citizen, Andrei Kirilenko did not undo one important fact about his life.
He remains a Russian.
It so happens, the New Jersey Nets' new owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, hails from the old USSR, too.
With the two important Russian figures converging in the same spot at the same time Wednesday, it's no wonder a new rumor emerged linking the NBA futures of Kirilenko and Prokhorov's Brooklyn-bound Nets.
At different junctures in the day, both guys declined to comment about any and all gossip about that. Kirilenko also reiterated his hopes of re-signing with Utah, too.
"First of all, you know we can't comment on our relationship with different clubs when you have existing contracts, and I'm not going to do it," Kirilenko said. "It's just not good for the Jazz."
But speculation about a Russian reunion emerged after the New York Daily News reported that AK-47 would a desirable Plan B for the Nets if the in-flux franchise is unable to acquire Denver's Carmelo Anthony through a trade.
And after a shocking announcement by Prokhorov during a rare pregame press conference, that option was knocked off the table.
Even so, shortly after saying his team would no longer pursue Melo — or meet with him this week, as previous planned — the Russian billionaire said he couldn't talk about Kirilenko and the Nets.
Earlier in the day, Kirilenko made the same claim, refusing to discuss whether he might sign with Prokhorov this summer when he becomes a free agent or — as a source told the Daily News — whether he might end up in the Nets' front office one day.
"Always only rumors around. I can't control rumors," Kirilenko said. "It's always going to happen, especially with a Russian owner who's the head of New Jersey, so there's always going to be rumors."
Kirilenko admitted he has no desire to coach, but he might be interested in pursuing a general manager position someday after his playing career is finished.
In the more immediate future, however, Kirilenko wants to work out a deal with the Jazz to stay where his family has rooted itself for the past decade. The 29-year-old especially doesn't want to take his children out of a comfortable situation in Salt Lake City.
"Definitely, Utah (is) going to be my preference," Kirilenko said. "I've spent 10 years here, and it's worth a lot. We established so many connections, not only in basketball but off the court."
Even before that happened, though, Kirilenko established a relationship with Prokhorov as a teen when the Jazz forward played for the CSKA team the tycoon owned.
As an owner, Kirilenko said his compatriot was nice to players and was "positive rather than negative" while trying to lift them up.
Prokhorov put his complimentary trait on display Wednesday when asked to comment about what Kirilenko means to Russian basketball. The one-time All-Star is one of just two Russians currently in the NBA (the Knicks' Temofy Mozgov is the other).
About Kirilenko, who scored 17 points with eight rebounds in Utah's ugly 103-95 loss, Prokhorov reminded reporters of their previous player-owner relationship and offered some praise.
"He's the best Russian player, and he's very popular in Russia," Prokhorov said. "I like him a lot. He's a very good guy."13 comments on this story
These two weren't the only big-time Russians in the house. With Prokhorov making a rare appearance, the Nets hosted a Russian Culture appreciation night and sports stars such as NHL standout Alex Ovechkin, Olympic gold-medalist swimmer Lenny Krayzelburg, ice-skating figures Tatiana Ovechkina and Viktor Petrenko were also in attendance.
"It's very nice idea," Kirilenko said.