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My Dinner with Andrei

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I was working on a post about the differences between international and NBA basketball.  The fact that two of the greatest players in the world (Andrei Kirilenko and Sarunas Jasikevicius), after leading their teams to great finishes in EuroBasket 07, are both looking to bolt the NBA for the EuroLeague, has got to be more than just a coincidence.  These guys are big time players, and yet they've both been marginalized in the NBA.  At least AK47 got paid - Saras has never even gotten a chance.  There's got to be some major disconnect.  Unfortunately, I couldn't really come up with any brilliant insights, so other than some interesting observations, there just wasn't really a post there.  Maybe it will come to me yet.

But at least I can do the straightforward post about Kirilenko's situation.  First of all, it's pretty clear that Jerry Sloan is no picnic to play for.  Even if you're straight.  (And Andrei is pretty clearly straight if you'll recall the deal his wife gave him last season.)  

There's been a fair amount of patter about the way the Utah offense changed with the emergence of Williams and Boozer, which is supposedly why AK47 faded into the background, and about how he had his greatest success at power forward and shouldn't be playing small forward.  I don't really see any of that.  Let's face it, AK47 is a game changer on DEFENSE first.  And it's his defense on wings (I've never seen anyone defend Kobe Bryant better) and his shot-blocking that make him great.  If he's locked up in post defense with a big power forward, that's not where he's going to shine.  So I'm far from satisfied that there's been any sort of explanation offered for where he went during the regular season last year.  

If you'll recall, against the Warriors in the playoffs, that game-changer AK47 showed up again, taking Stephen Jackson right out of the series.  That's the guy that made an all star team and signed a maximum contract.  But he disappeared again against San Antonio.  I think that's got to be a concern for anyone looking to acquire him.  Maybe he just needs to get away from Sloan.  But maybe there's something else going on.

Would Kirilenko really walk away from the money and play in Europe if the Jazz let him?  He strikes me as the kind of guy who just might.  And let's be clear - if he's willing to take a buyout of zero (i.e. he and the Jazz mutually agree to tear up his contract and not pay him any of it), I can't see why the Jazz WOULDN'T do that.  They'd still have three great players, a couple of solid pieces like Paul Millsap and Matt Harpring, and a TON of cap space.  They certainly can't think they were getting their money's worth from AK47 last season, so it's only logical that they'd let him walk if he was willing to leave it on the table.  

And then there is the trade talk.  Citizen cabezadeknuckle asked today, "hey clippersteve. any thoughts on maggette for kirilenko?"  I think you have to take a serious look any time a big time player is on the market.  And as it happens, the Clippers have a couple of pieces that the Jazz might actually be interested in.  For one thing, as cabeza pointed out, the Jazz signed Maggette to an offer sheet back in 2004 which the Clippers then matched.  So they certainly liked Maggette at one point.  For another, the Jazz have all stars or near all stars at the 1, 3, 4 and 5, but a total void at the 2 (the starter for much of last season was Derek Fisher, a 1, now he's gone, and there is no replacement).  And of course if they send AK47 away, they'll have a hole at the 3 also.  Basically, they have no wings, and the Clippers are lousy with them.  

Maggette for Kirilenko straight up doesn't work.  Even if you did it with a trade exception, the Clippers would go over the luxury tax threshold if they took on Kirilenko's extra salary, so it's definitely not happening.  But as it happens, the Clippers could take any two of the salaries of Mobley, Maggette and Thomas and make an AK47 trade work.  Interesting, right?

Kelly Dwyer, subbing for Henry at TrueHoop, actually proposed a three way trade that had the Jazz getting Thomas and Maggette, the Clippers getting Mike Bibby, and the Kings getting Kirilenko.  It's interesting that he thinks the Jazz would be interested in this package, but the real question is why would the Clippers participate in that little menage-a-trois?  Wouldn't the Clippers rather have Kirilenko than Bibby?  Especially if they lose Thomas AND Maggette?  Of course the fact that this trade proposal started from a comment on a Sactown Royalty post explains the Kings' presence in the room, but the Clippers and Jazz could make this deal happen all by themselves.

I would actually think that the Jazz would like to get their hands on Mobley.  They are pretty desperate for a true shooting guard, and Mobley fits the bill.  He also strikes me as a 'Sloan' kind of guy - he'll play defense, set screens, work hard in practice.  And he could help spread the floor for Boozer.  

I don't think the Jazz would do the deal for Thomas and Mobley.   They both have contracts that run three more seasons, so they would only be getting one season of salary relief versus Kirilenko's deal.  It's also debatable as to whether the Clippers should do that deal - one of the worst three point shooting teams in the league, they can't really afford to trade their two best three point shooters, can they?  So whereas I am not crazy about Mobley or Thomas and would sooner part with them than Maggette, I don't think you can lose them both without getting a shooter back.

So if there's a deal here, it's for Maggette (whom the Jazz ostensibly like) and Mobley (who fits a need for them).  Their combined salary this coming season of $16.2 is greater than Kirilenko's $13.7, but within the allowable variance.  Assuming Maggette would opt out of the final season on his contract, the Jazz would save about $6M next season, a little more the season after that, and about $27M over the course of the deal.  So, yeah, I'm thinking they might have an interest.  

What about the Clippers?  It's a tough call.  If you're down with the argument that Kirilenko has had trouble being effective because Boozer is parked on the block and AK47 can't slash, then the Clippers aren't any better for him.  But like I said, I don't buy that.  The bigger problem is that adding Kirilenko, and his maximum contract lasting four more seasons, to Elton Brand, who has a maximum contract for the foreseeable future assuming the Clippers extend him, would give you two GREAT players, both paid the maximum, neither of whom can really be counted on for a basket down the stretch.  It's a no-brainer to justify a maximum contract for EB.  And Kirilenko at one point looked like he was worth every penny as well.  But it is goes completely against NBA convention, on the final possession of a close game, to give the ball to someone making $4M per when there are two guys making $15M on the floor.

In the short term, this deal would leave the Clippers with Quinton Ross starting at the two, backed up by Guillermo Diaz, so that's another problem.  But, you gotta figure the defense-firster in MDsr would be pretty intrigued.  Two great wing defenders in Ross and AK47, and when Brand returns a trio of shot blockers in Brand, Kaman and AK47 the likes of which the league has never seen.  Flash forward to when both Brand and Livingston are back and healthy (not guaranteed, I know), and that is one nasty starting five defensively - Livingston, Ross, AK47, Brand and Kaman.  Four of those guys are capable of some day making first team all defense.  And none of them can shoot from over 15 feet.  It would be a fascinating experiment - can defense and teamwork win enough games, or does every team need a superstar scorer?  (The deal would also alleviate the Clippers current roster crunch, making room for Diaz and Jared Jordan - a nice side benefit.)

In conclusion, I'd certainly be placing some calls to the 8-0-1 to gauge interest.  With Maggette likely to opt out of his deal after this season and Mobley's contract a bit of a problem itself, the Clippers wouldn't be giving up too much.  They would clearly be hamstrung financially as long as Kirilenko, Brand and Kaman were on the team - that's about $40M per and growing for those three guys for years to come.  And of course the biggest question is, can those three guys be the core of a championship team?  Because for that kind of money, they had better be.  It would be a risky move.  But the resulting team could be a defensive juggernaut.

If you could get AK47 for Maggette and Mobley, would you do it?  I think you'd have to.