Utah Jazz: Kirilenko seeking return to old form

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

"Everybody has their own ritual," Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor said.

"People get ready for the games different ways," Williams added. "A.K. sits there and reads a book. I don't read books. I listen to music. If that's how he gets ready, that's how he gets ready. You can't knock somebody's pre-game routine.

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Kirilenko doesn't understand the fuss, and most certainly does not buy the portrait of a disinterested and detached teammate.

"Nothing wrong at all," he said.

"If you take a look, I've been the first guy (out) for seven years. My thing is I don't like to sit after the game in the locker room and wait. Wait for what? I like to dress up, and just get to the bus and kind of analyze what we've done differently.

"I've done it my whole career," Kirilenko added. "I've been doing it with Russian National Team every year. It's not that there's something wrong with it. Maybe somebody looks at it differently, but what I can do about it?" And it's true.

It really is nothing new.

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Still, after a regular season that the saw the Jazz stumble to an 8th-seed-in-the-West finish, some outsiders wonder if there's more to it than old habits.

But the Jazz insist Kirilenko is not the root of their woes.

Sloan makes that clear but does concede the notion of a so-called "Old Andrei" — the one constantly sprawled on the floor chasing loose balls, or sliding from the off-side to block shot after shot — vs. today's businesslike 28-year-old.

"When you're in this league for four or five years, it's a job," he said. "And every player has to adjust to that.

"You know, you're at the front for two or three years, and everything goes well. People love you. Then the expectations get to where we're supposed to be winning it all, and that's what we're faced with a little bit."

Then there's the matter of money.

At slightly more than $15 million per year, Kirilenko makes about $3.5 million more than next-closest teammate Boozer. He's due $16.45 million next season and $17.82 million in 2010-11. At the time he signed his current $86 million contract extension in 2004, it was a max-money deal.

That, Sloan suggested, goes a long way toward explaining why expectations are so hard to realize — and magnifies each quick dash out of the locker room.

"Sometimes money gets in the way of other people's thoughts about players," the Jazz coach said.

"It's kind of like when we had (center Greg) Ostertag," he added. "Ostertag got a big contract, and they expected him to play like (Kareem Abdul-) Jabbar. Well, he wasn't. And that happens with a lot of people sometimes."

Playing arguably out of position doesn't help matters, either.

"The other thing for him is he's, at times, a much better 4 (power forward) than he is 3 (small forward). And we're playing him at 3," Sloan said. "We've got 4 guys we can play.

"We've got (backup power forward) Paul (Millsap), and Boozer, and we can play (veteran forward) Matt (Harpring) some there. He (Kirilenko) played a lot (at 4) when Boozer was (injured). Are we gonna sit those guys down (now)?"

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He'll likely continue to come off the bench.

But when the Jazz open the best-of-seven series Sunday in L.A., Sloan won't just use Kirilenko. He will need him, if Utah is to have any hope of advancing from the first round for a third straight season.

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