Andrei Kirilenko seemed genuinely happy on Friday night after the Utah Jazz downed the Sacramento Kings.
And why wouldn't he be?
The self-proclaimed "cold-blooded Russian" had just finished his best scoring game and perhaps his best all-around game of the season. Kirilenko went off for 25 points, making 6 of his 8 shots from the field including three 3-pointers. He also was 10-for-12 from the line.
"I'm very happy we get nice performance tonight," he said in his charming, accented English.
Kirilenko credited shooting coach Jeff Hornacek with helping him regain his confidence and shooting touch that so often left him a year ago.
Scoring, of course, is just a side benefit Kirilenko brings to the table. He does so many other things well like blocking shots, defending, passing the ball and grabbing rebounds that he can have a major impact without making a shot. He currently leads his team in blocks, is second in assists and third in rebounding.
But while all seemed good at EnergySolutions Arena on Friday night after the Jazz earned their ninth victory in 11 games, the fact remains that Kirilenko, despite plenty of opportunities, has never come right out and retracted his preseason desire to be traded.
Oh, it's been obvious that Jazz coach Jerry Sloan is trying harder to communicate with Kirilenko. And it's true A.K. has said that he is happier than he was during a frustrating 2006-07 season that saw him break down in tears in the middle of the playoff series against Houston while wondering about his role in Utah.
But Kirilenko, Utah's highest-paid player, has never come right out and said, "I don't want to be traded anymore."
And, at the same time, Jazz vice president of basketball operations Kevin O'Connor has never closed the door on a possible AK-47 trade. In fact, he's kept the door wide open.
When asked last week by Morning News Jazz beat writer Tim Buckley specifically about trade rumors concerning Kirilenko, O'Connor answered in generalities.
"Let me go back to my worn phrase and say if we feel (a trade) would make our team better, (Jazz owner) Larry (H. Miller) is committed to do that," said O'Connor.
In other words, it's a safe assumption that O'Connor and the Jazz are still fielding offers for Kirilenko. Perhaps Utah is even making offers to other teams with Kirilenko as bait.
Now that Kyle Korver is with the Jazz, Matt Harpring has been cleared to play as many minutes as the coaches want him to and C.J. Miles has shown, in spurts, that he can be productive at the small forward position, perhaps Kirilenko is more expendable in Utah than he has ever been.
Maybe Kirilenko's breakout shooting performance on Friday night was a great audition tape for him and it will increase his trade value for the Jazz.
Now, that doesn't mean that a deal is likely to be made prior to the Feb. 21 trade deadline, of course. NBA trades are difficult to pull off especially ones during the season involving "max money" players like Kirilenko, Shawn Marion of the Suns and the Lakers' Kobe Bryant because of salary cap implications.
So chances are Kirilenko won't get his preseason wish to be traded and he'll be stuck with the Jazz even if Utah is trying to make a deal for him.Just don't think for a moment that Utah is no longer considering swapping Kirilenko despite all the perceived happiness right now.
E-mail: [email protected]