Andrei Kirilenko signed with the Brooklyn Nets in the summer of 2013 on what seemed to be a steal of a deal, in which the Brooklyn Nets would "only" have to pay the 11-year veteran just north of $3 million for his services. For a player coming off a season in which he averaged over 12 points, five rebounds, 1.5 blocks, a steal and a handful of those intangible moments "that don't show up in the stat-sheet" per game, he turned in, arguably, his worst season as a pro.
Kirilenko played a career-low 19 minutes per game in a Jason Kidd system where he was pulled in and out of games for no particular rhyme or reason. Yes, he was dealing with serious back-related injuries, but even when healthy, he never truly became a part of Kidd's system. At least not in the way in which you would expect one of the League's more versatile vets.
On Friday, Kirilenko was asked at Brooklyn Nets Media Day whether or no he believes his role this season under new head coach Lionel Hollins will change, and he answered, simply, "I hope so!"
He's often looked at as a "defensive specialist," used in guarding the opposing team's top scoring wing, but Kirilenko sees himself as more than just a one-trick pony.
"Of course i see this role and I will be ready to guard LeBron (James), Melo (Carmelo Anthony), Kevin (Durant), but I want to be a little bit more of a contributor," he said, "not only the guy who is coming in and guarding one guy. I think I can play a little bit bigger role....you've seen me play for many years in the League, and you know if I'm on the floor I can do many different valuable things for the team -- not necessarily scoring, but being around the ball, passing, running, defensive stops, supporting transitions...a lot of things, I'm a very energetic player. But in order to do that, you have to be on the floor."
But he doesn't necessarily blame Kidd for not playing him since, well, Kidd had his own system and he didn't really see a major role in it for Kirilenko.
"I'm not pissed or anything, don't get me wrong, at the coach," Kirilenko said of Kidd. "Every coach has their own system. I don't know how it's going to be with Lionel. I hope everything is going to fall into the right spot and I'll play, but you never know. We're going to have preseason, see how it goes and what style we're going to play. But so far it seems like I should get more."
Health was, indeed, an issue, playing in just 45 games, with many of those DNPs related to back spasms, and some "Coach's Decisions" sprinkled in there from time to time. On the health front, however, Kirilenko says he "feels great." Of course this being the start of training camp, it's expected that he feels great now, but how will he fare during Lionel Hollins' two-a-days?
"I played 10 years for Jerry Sloan," he responded. Practicing twice a day? Not an issue for Kirilenko.
On what he knows about new coach Lionel Hollins, Kirilenko says that he's quite familiar with his work in Memphis, which considering he spent his entire career in the Western Conference -- with Utah and Minnesota -- prior to joining the Nets, Kirilenko has seen a lot of the Hollins-run Girzzlies teams.
"I've seen Lionel (Hollins') teams for many, many years, especially with Memphis," he told reporters. "I think he did a tremendous job brining a team who had been an outsider of the league to, really, an elite team who was constantly in the playoffs and playing a great style of basketball. And I think it's a great example of how he operates with a team - involve everybody; young guys, veterans in the process. It's a very nice style of the game, which is what you like to see. A lot of good defensive plays, great transition (basketball), that looks like a good team. Again, it's ups and downs, but for the majority of the time he was the coach in Memphis it was a very complete team."
And he "hopes" that this year he'll be able to play more of a role in Coach Hollins' system. "I hope this year it's going to change," he said, again.
There's a lot of hope Brooklyn this year, which is a bit of a change from last year where there was much made of expectations. They were expected to win 60 games. Expected to go to the NBA Finals. Expected to be one of the all-time great rosters. Now they hope to be, which seems to be a much more comfortable position to be in as training camp starts. It breeds more optimism and excitement than just having the season already played out on paper.
"We can start slowly without a lot of expectations, this is a good thing," Kirilenko said of the lowered expectations. "I think we can take a step back and create a really good team."