End scene. The curtain may have finally dropped on the dramatic third act of this offseason. In a surprise turn of events, the Minnesota Timberwolves have come to an agreement with Euroleague MVP Andre Kirilenko for a reported 2 year/$20 million offer, according to Adrian Wojnarwoski of Yahoo! Sports!. Like many decisions by Wolves’ General Manager David Kahn, there was a quality of spontaneity and desperation to the recent addition of the Russian small forward. However, unlike past tradings and signings by Kahn, this deal is both sensible and well-structured, adding to a chain of quality acquisitions this summer. Many have speculated if the upheaval of this team is the work of head coach Rick Adelman rather than Kahn, yet either way the Wolves have now placed themselves in a position where they can be hold their own in the ultra-competitive Western Conference and Northwest Division.
Why does Kirilenko impact Wolves’ standing so greatly? Put simply he brings skills sorely lacking in the Wolves roster- defense and effective wing play. When you examine the Wolves’ previous wing players- Michael Beasley, Wesley Johnson and Wayne Ellington- Kirilenko is a tremendous upgrade. With CSKA Moscow, Kirilenko shot a remarkable 40% from beyond the arc. While the competition and 3 point line overseas may fall short by NBA standards, Kirilenko’s overall production should remain free from harsh scrutiny. Kirilenko’s best seasons with the Utah Jazz were arguably 2009-10 and 2010-11 when he averaged close to 15.8 points per game and 6.6 total rebounds; with CSKA Moscow he increased these values to 19.8 PPG and 10.2 RPG respectively. While he will not hold such a prominent scoring role with Minnesota, his play on the offensive and defensive end may be even more reliable than that of new (and slightly unpredictable) Wolves, Brandon Roy and Alexey Shved.
When the Blazers matched the Wolves’ offer sheet for Batum, Kahn and Adelman both responded with disappointment claiming they believed him to be the ‘missing piece,’ according to Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The gap in age between Batum (23) and Kirilenko (31) may be startling, but Kirilenko’s consistency over the years largely makes up for this difference. Kirilenko has never held a PER under 15.0 during his 11 year career, per basketball-reference.com. What’s more, Kirilenko’s contract is a far greater trade chip than Batum’s offer sheet of 4 year/$46 million if the Wolves ever face future salary cap issues.
Kirilenko is the prize of the Wolves’ offseason (assuming Roy does not grow cartilage in his garden), and as fans we should be elated. Wolves Nation can nitpick over numbers, but the recent dumping of poor role players and compromising contracts should signal that risks and expenses are needed- it’s that black and white (or maybe just mostly white). The upcoming season brings a new culture, both literally and figuratively, and with it a very welcome shock.