Utah Jazz: Kirilenko seeking return to old form

Published: Friday, April 17 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Andrei Kirilenko discusses his role with the Jazz as the team approaches the playoffs.

Michael Brandy, Deseret News

It was nearly two years ago that Andrei Kirilenko sat in a chair at the Toyota Center in Houston — and wept.

He had maxed out his emotions, and even his status as a one-time NBA All-Star wasn't going to stem the tide of tears.

The forward from Russia had been benched for the final quarter-and-a-half of an opening-round Western Conference playoff game against the Houston Rockets — the Jazz's first in four years, and first since John Stockton retired and Karl Malone had left for the Los Angeles Lakers — and he simply couldn't handle any more.

Ever since, and even as the Jazz prepare this week to open a first-round series with the Lakers on Sunday in L.A., Kirilenko appears to be a changed man.

He seems — as the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr requested in his version of a rather popular prayer — to possess the serenity to accept the things he cannot change, the courage to change those he can and the wisdom to know the difference.

He's evidently come to terms, too, with his lot in life with the Jazz: a former scoring leader reduced to role player; an ex-starter now coming off the bench; the team's highest-salaried employee, but, at 27.3, No. 6 behind five others in minutes per game.

"I'm sure it's something that's probably been hard for him, because guys have progressed on the team as far as me (and) Carlos (Boozer, the Jazz's two-time All-Star power forward) since he's been here," point guard and 2008-09 team scoring leader Deron Williams said. "You know, he went from being the guy everybody depended on to score 15, 20 points a game to now 11, 12.

"That has to be tough on some people. But I thought he's done a good job of adjusting. He hasn't complained, or made any scenes."

? ? ?

The meltdown in Houston was quite dramatic. And it is yesterday's news.

But it serves, too, as backdrop for evolution of a relationship in which player plays and coach coaches — and both accept each other's realities.

"I've always tried, after last year and the year before," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said, "(to remember) he's got to be who he is, and I can't change that."

So Kirilenko reads his paperback books, often spy novels written in Russian, while waiting for a game to get under way, and Sloan no longer complains about it.

Teammates still are spilling off the floor following a morning shootaround on the road, Kirilenko patiently waits in a chair for the bus ride back to the team hotel, and Sloan's OK with it.

Most teammates don't even have their uniforms off after a recent 29-point loss in Dallas, and Kirilenko already has showered and dressed and prepared a plate of postgame food to eat while again waiting for the bus, and the Jazz coach doesn't seem bothered a bit.

"I don't have a problem with that," Sloan said.

Nor does Williams, the Jazz's team leader.

He actually laughs about Kirilenko's speed exiting the locker room, be it at home or away, and paints a picture of Clark Kent doing the quick change — only with the outfit coming off.

"He showers faster than anybody on this earth, probably," Williams said. "It's like Superman — he's, like, in the booth.

"He's been doing it since we've been here, so, we just know it's A.K.

"I don't think anybody thinks anything of it," he added. "We often talk about it, though — just how fast he gets out of there."

As for Kirilenko's paperback penchant, these days no one really seems to having issues with that, either.

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