"For sure, I'd love to play in front of Russian audience," Kirilenko said this summer. "I'm in good shape, and I think I could play for three or four years more."
SALT LAKE CITY — Forget Miami, Andrei Kirilenko is taking his talents — and his tattoo — to Moscow.
The Utah Jazz forward will play for his old Russian team, CSKA Moscow, until the NBA lockout comes to a resolution. Kirilenko signed a three-year deal with the team he played for prior to joining the Jazz in 2001.
"I am glad to be back to the team where I spent the years of adolescence," Kirilenko said Tuesday from Moscow. "It's a pleasure to have a chance to play for Russian fans, my friends, and relatives. CSKA has a very strong team, great coach, and excellent players.
"It's great," he added, "when the highest goals are ahead of you."
Kirilenko's contract includes an option that will allow him to play in the NBA again once the league's labor situation is settled. The NBA-out clause had been a sticking point in Kirilenko's negotiations with CSKA this summer.
The unrestricted free agent can opt out of his Russian contract to sign a deal with an NBA team a month after the lockout officially ends, but he must remain with CSKA for one week after announcing his plans to return.
One big contract caveat: If Kirilenko doesn't terminate his contract with CSKA during October, he will stay with the team until the end of the season and can opt out for the NBA during the 2012 offseason.
Financial terms were not announced, but Kirilenko will donate his earnings during the lockout to charity.
"All the money earned in Russia, I will send to Kirilenko's Kids charity foundation," he said. "The foundation will help the children hospitals and charity schools, sport schools, sport veterans and the basketball players who became the disabled persons."
AK-47 joins Jazz center Mehmet Okur and ex-Utah point guard Deron Williams, among dozens of other NBA players, to find temporary gigs with international teams during the lockout. Both Okur and Williams are playing for Turkish teams.
For as long as it lasts, CSKA Moscow coach Jonas Kazlauskas is thrilled to have Russia's biggest basketball star on his squad, which also includes NBA journeyman Nenad Krstic.
"My opinion, you should not take the NBA player during the lockout," Kazlauskas said as reported by fiba.com. "If they can leave you, you don't know what to expect. And only the weak teams can take this kind of step.
"At the same time," the coach continued, "every rule has its exception, and Kirilenko is the exception. Andrei is the star of Russian and world basketball. He means for his country as much as Sabonis for Lithuania, Pau Gasol for Spain, Nowitzki for Germany."
Though Kirilenko played for his country's team on occasion during summers — and started playing for CSKA as a 15-year-old Kirilenko — has played professionally in Utah for the past 10 years.
During his roller-coaster decade with the Jazz, the versatile but oft-injured Kirilenko averaged 12.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.4 steals.
The 30-year-old, who got a massive World of Warcraft back tattoo this summer, refers to Salt Lake City as his second home.
Kirilenko gave his country a stark reminder of his talent when he helped Russia earn a bronze medal at the EuroBasket tournament this summer. The two-time Russian Olympian, whose country secured a spot in the 2012 London Games, was named to the all-tournament team after averaging 14.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.6 steals.
CSKA president Andrei Vatutin told fiba.com that signing Kirilenko benefits both sides, with rewards outweighing risks.
"We understand perfectly all the risks of his possible departure but we knowingly take them. In my opinion, there are no minuses in inviting Andrei," Vatutin said. "Even if he leaves the team in a month or two, depending on his desire, Kirilenko will play several games, and his participation will add to the interest toward our team.
"I am sure that most of the fans as well as me are anxious to see Kirilenko in CSKA uniform," he added. "If the lockout finishes, and Andrei decides not to chase NBA contract, our perspectives become even better."11 comments on this story
The 6-9 Kirilenko is expected to play for CSKA on Thursday against BC Nizhny Novgorod and make his Euroleague debut on Oct. 17 against Zalgiris, which includes fellow NBA players Ty Lawson (Denver) and Sonny Weems (Toronto).
Contributing: Wendell Maxey