Last fall I was in Vegas (read about that trip here) and after a night in which we actually turned in very early, especially considering the fact we were in Vegas (too much Patron #firstworldproblems), Ken, Thor and I woke up early (5 am I think) to get a good long day in. We took advantage of the barren roads of the early hours and headed up and down the strip seeing some of the casinos that likely we wouldn't have walked to had we needed to battle the crowds to get to them. By the time we made our way to the Wynn, it was 6:45 am. We walked through the casino and who do we see playing craps? The brand new T-Pup, AK-47 himself.
At the time he, and all NBA players, were stuck in the NBA labor dispute and thus locked out. Didn't stop AK from having some fun. Now almost a year later the former All-Star from Russia is about to sign a 2 year, $20 million deal with the T-Pups, and I love the deal. Wish I could take some credit for him coming to Minnesota, but I, nor Ken or Thor, had the balls to go up to him and recruit him. Give us a break, it was 6:45 in the morning, we had just begun to work on our buzz for the day.
Is $10 million per year too much for a 31-year-old SF who played in Russia last year?
Not really. Why?
Take a look at comparable SF's, their contracts(in millions per year for 12/13 season) and stats from the 11/12 season and career numbers:
Rudy Gay - $16.4
Andre Iguodala - $14.7
Luol Deng - $13.3
Danny Granger - $13.0
Nicolas Batum - $11.0
Richard Jefferson - $10.1
Andrei Kirilenko - $10.0 (stats from 10/11 season)
Stephen Jackson - $10.0
Gerald Wallace - $9.6
Shawn Marion - $8.6
Caron Butler - $8.0
Thaddeus Young - $8.0
Looking at the comparables, you have to say that if AK-47 can give you his career average numbers, the Wolves are paying him at the market value.
Another part of the contract that to me makes a lot of sense is that it is just a two-year deal. Anything longer than that and I would've started to dislike the contract more. A two-year contract allows the Wolves a ton of flexibility. In many ways a two-year contract, especially of this size, is a great asset. It will allow the Wolves to see what AK has left in the tank this season. The $10 million for this year wasn't going to anyone else (sorry Wes Johnson...have fun in Phoenix...don't forget to smile, oh that's right you never do!!). Because of that we get this year to see what AK has left, and we will see if he is indeed a $10 million per year player still or not. After next season is where this contract becomes more than just what AK can bring.
In the second year, barring a player or team option thrown into the contract we don't yet know about, AK will then automatically turn into an expiring $10 million dollar contract. That is a huge asset to have. If Kirilenko fit well in his first year with the Wolves, putting up good numbers and being the defensive wing they've been desperate for, then you keep Kirilenko for the 13/14 season and have another good year paying him market value, if not getting him on the cheap. Then Kirilenko's deal will expire, opening up a chance to resign him at 33 for much less and opening up cap space to then extend the contract of Ricky Rubio and/or Derrick Williams (if he makes it that long), both will be entering their final year of their rookie deals in 14/15.
But, if Kirilenko either doesn't fit in well, or is injury plagued (as his history suggests he could be) this upcoming year, you now have a huge trade asset in an expiring $10 million contract next off-season. In the NBA expiring contracts can be gold. Take Brad Miller's contract as an example. It's been traded twice this off-season. The benefit of Kirilenko's contract would be he wouldn't (probably) be retiring next off-season like Brad Miller is, so you can deal a team looking at summer 2014 free agents a capable player, who also will allow them to clear cap space after that final year of the contract.
To me that is why this deal makes so much sense:
1) Fits a need.
2) We have the space this season.
3) If he sucks, very tradeable after this season.
4) Kirilenko>>>>>>>>Wes Johnson.
It may not have been the deal the Wolves wanted. Obviously their first choice would have been to get Nicolas Batum at $11.0 million and have him for the long haul with Rubio/Love and be set with a three-man core. Yet, Kirilenko gives them a three-man core just like Batum, with numbers comparable to Batum but with some benefits Batum didn't bring. Outside of potential and youth, Kirilenko is better defensively, more flexible in number of positions he can play (SF-PF-C depending on match ups), better rebounder, better passer and better at getting to the free throw line. For the length of Kirilenko's deal with the Wolves he will likely be the better player.
Finally I think this deal will help the Wolves in their goal to be a playoff bound squad next year, barring any major injuries. The projected starting lineup has a nice balance to it; PG-Rubio, SG-Roy, SF-Kirilenko, PF-Love, C-Pekovic. Off the bench you are deep with names like Barea, Ridnour, Budinger, Williams, Shved and Steimsma. The 12/13 Wolves look to be deep, balanced and talented a combination that the Wolves haven't had in a really long time. Kirilenko isn't a savior, but he is a very nice piece that could be the key to the season without ruining long-term roster flexibility.