After meeting with Jerry Sloan and Kevin O'Connor and then donning his Utah Jazz uniform for Monday's media day at the practice facility, Andrei Kirilenko did not seem to have softened his thoughts about being unhappy with his situation.
He said he stands by and doesn't regret the things he said a few weeks ago on a Russian Web site about how he doesn't think he can play effectively in Sloan's Jazz system and would be willing to walk away from the $63 million left on his contract and play in Russia if he can't be traded things he actually cannot do, according to the rules.
Other than sticking to his guns, Kirilenko's best friend on Monday was a smiling, "Come on guys, no comment."
Now that camp has started, Kirilenko wants to talk only about working hard, concentrating on Jazz basketball and becoming the best player he can be which is what the Monday meeting was about. Perhaps there was some movement even if Kirilenko didn't want to say so.
"We talked about it and tried to clear the air and move forward," said O'Connor, Utah's senior vice president of basketball operations. "Here's where we're trying to get to to Andrei playing well for us this season. We're going to try to work together to try to do that."
"I thought it was very good," said Sloan about the meeting with Kirilenko. "He had some things to say, and I don't have a problem with that. We have to get this thing cleared up so he can play well. And if that (public complaint) helps him, I don't have a problem with that."
Kirilenko spoke of the immediate future. "I don't want to talk about what's happened right now because we're coming to the preseason camp, and I don't want guys to feel bad about it. That's only my situation, so it shouldn't affect anybody else."
But it does affect the whole team, whether the MVP of last month's EuroBasket tournament and a former NBA All-Star can or will try to fit himself back into the Jazz and whether Sloan can help him without doing injustice to the rest of the team.
Kirilenko would not say if he felt any better following his face-to-face meeting with Sloan and O'Connor, and he charged that the media had made his comments into a conflict with Sloan.
"I mean, again, we never have conflict with Jerry," he said. "You created. Sometimes we have misunderstanding, but it's not a conflict."
He added that, in a perfect world, he would be playing basketball in that same Jazz uniform he was wearing Monday, though he wouldn't say if he thought he'd have one on come Oct. 30 opening night at Golden State.
While Kirilenko was a bit evasive, his coach seemed unfazed by things Kirilenko had said about him and concerned about helping him past this rough spot and keeping him on the Jazz roster.
"Those are the best situations if you're willing to fight out of it you can have because everybody said it couldn't be done," Sloan said, adding he's willing to "Go out on State Street and give him a big hug or whatever you want to go do" to have him help win games.
"I've always felt that way. I don't always get it done, for some reason, the right way," Sloan said.
He admitted he has not always dealt with Kirilenko in the best way. "I have to blame myself for Andrei's failure to be able to play at times because maybe I haven't handled him the way he'd like to be and done the right things.
"We have to learn how to try to be a more effective coach with him," Sloan said, noting that Kirilenko has told him that the coach's negative ways affect his confidence. Sloan will try to improve in that area but said Kirilenko's play last summer with his national team and being named EuroBasket MVP did a lot already for him.
The biggest thing he wants from Kirilenko and others is, "No. 1 playing hard, which he indicated he's going to try to do every day, and that's the bottom line. We want to try to get him situations where he is comfortable," Sloan said.
"I can't tell you that I'll always make the right decision on his behalf, but it will always be my intention to try to do it if it gives us a chance to win."
The coach said he and his staff are always trying to find ways to make players more effective, and they're again working on things for Kirilenko, something they also did last season, letting him handle the ball more.
"He never said anything specifically about where (position) he wanted to play," Sloan said. "He just wanted to be more involved in some of the things that's going on. Sometimes that will happen, and sometimes it won't. I think he understands that.
"Most importantly, we've got to do a better job trying to get him some things where he's comfortable. It's imperative for every player to be comfortable on the floor as much as possible," Sloan said, cautioning, "I can't tell you what the other team is going to do to you in those scenarios."
Sloan also wanted to cut international players like Kirilenko some slack for playing in foreign lands.
"I've always admired guys for coming here and playing and being away from their families, their homes," he said. "I don't think I could have done it. I don't know if I could ever get comfortable driving a different automobile, eating different kinds of food and stuff, so you have to give them a lot of credit for that."He said Kirilenko never told him personally he can't play in his system, and, "I've never felt like any player couldn't play for me."
E-mail: [email protected]